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A Map to the Next World
40 min, August 1997
Concept, Choreography and Costumes: Anita Ratnam
Sets and Lights: M. Natesh
Music: Poetic justice and The Ensemble
Synopsis - A Collision of Colonization
An excerpt from a poem by Joy Harjo to mark the shared colonial legacy of native Americans and Indians. Conceived and performed by Harjo and Ratnam in association with the United States Information Service as a transcultural project in August, 1997 at Chennai (Madras).
We were thinking about each other.
I was making a song to fit between a heron and the waving grass.
You were engraving rhythm with your feet beneath the banyan tree who was teaching you how to dance by standing still.
We were countries away, oceans, elephants, sea monster, deer and stars away.
I was thinking of you. You were thinking of me.
I was thinking of you. You were thinking of me.
We had no names for each other. You were a land I could not imagine though I had poetry and turtle shells.
I was a land that could be possible if you pondered the immensity of infinity when adding up the stars to keep track of destiny.
She was thinking of me.
And there he was.
The outcome of all her fears, a Europeans explorer who would set off to find India, turn the opposite direction to escape the edge of the world.
She tried to stop him. She turned her thoughts around, and they made a wide arc through the sky, became the rainbow lights shimmering above her heart.
But it was too late. He had already discovered the land of herons and waving grass.
And he would try to rule you, too.
And we were countries away, oceans, elephants, sea monster, deer and stars away.
And we were thinking of each other. Fire craves air. Air tastes rain.
Water is attracted to earth and earth cannot get through the day without sending flowers to the spirit of river.
We were thinking of each other then. We are thinking of each other now.
Anita Ratinam muses on intercultural collaborations:
Can a dancer work with a sculptor, a painter, a poet, a filmmaker? In Indian dance we deal with the aesthetics of form, formalism & a specific structure. We are told that our art is descended from ancient heritage and that we the performer, are but a vehicle for a higher awareness. Yet we as individuals live in the present...in the here and now. Our emotions are governed more by what we read in the papers and what we see on TV and in our everyday lives than by the stories and mythologies we occasionally represent on stage. We are, as dancers, always walking that fine line between imagination and logic. Between life and art....
In my art, collaboration is of primary importance. At the core of living we are interdependent. The ecology of the artistic journey is to reach that point of balance and harmony in which all faculties are alive and fully expressed.
With famous Native American poet Joy Harjo, I realized that her poetry spoke of her people's persecution with the white colonizer. Her images were of drugs, gunshot wounds and substance abuse. What could I a classical Bharatanatyam dancer contribute in this collaboration since my dance vocabulary did not include these contemporary images? We were both called by the same name 'Indians', we both shared a colonial history, but we Indians had assumed responsibility for our own lives unlike the Native American community in North America. I realized that interculturalism was a state of mind, as much as a way of working. I was also very aware of the implicit superiority I felt as a bearer of an ancient culture. With the accumulated arrogance of an Indian heritage I could have easily overwhelmed her simple yet potent words and emotional music on the saxophone by being smug and non-inclusive...Would that have satisfied me as an artiste and would that attitude have helped in creating a truly multi-disciplinary work?
As long as one needs sense of POWER, of control, to suppress others and claim special status, and needing to be seen as better than the other via one's culture, then one is just not present in the work or in the world of art. What is needed was insight rather than control ad when that happens a truly intercultural work can emerge. With Joy Harjo, I discarded all costuming, elaborate trimmings of cosmetics that accompany our dance traditions and went back to the basics. Slowing down the movements and finding my body's natural responses to her words and music, gave me a clue as to how to really proceed without the word to word expression of her poetry as dancers are trained to do. A MAP TO THE NEXT WORLD was the result of this 4 week collaboration, a piece which lasted only 40 minutes but which was deeply fulfilling with both artistes emerging with dignity and joy.
In cross cultural collaboration, my work evolves out of layers and layers contributed by these artists, poets like Joy Harjo, choreographers, composers, musicians and performers. I bring together and work with all of them to create a unified fabric of the many disciplines. As our urban cities get more cosmopolitan and multicultural, we as world citizens are constantly readjusting our lives to accommodate newer people in our midst. And so it is in the area of culture.
There was a strange pattern emerging, tenuous, not always coherent, hesitant - yet always reaching out to each other - a stirring and cohesive medley.
- The Economic Times
A medley it was, of poetry, dance, music, folk and martial art. Not combined in any way but fused and blended to produce a performance that was innovative and heightened in its artistic sensibilities.
- The Hindu
... as Indian faces Indian, there is the brief meeting of two minds that carry with them the legacy of cultures rich in soul and the collective memory of million mutinies.
- Express Week