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A multi-cultural collaboration between Anita Ratnam, Arangham Dance Theatre, India and Mark Taylor, Dance Alloy, USA, May 2001

"The tangible world is movement, say the Masters, not a collection of moving objects, but movement itself. There are no objects 'in movements', it is the movement which constitutes the objects which appear to us: they are nothing but movement."
- from The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects by Alexandra David-Neel and Lama Yongden

Artistic Directors/Choreography: Anita R Ratnam, Aranham Dance Theatre, India; Mark Taylor, Dance Alloy, Pittsburgh, USA

Music: Alice Shields

Technical Director: Mithran Devanesan

Alloy Dancers: Andre Koslowski, Gwen Hunter Ritchie

ADT Dancers: Anusha Subramanyam, L. Narendra Kumar

Costumes: Myra Bullington

US Premiere
The premiere of DUST was performed at the Byham Theater, Pittsburgh, USA, in May 2001. Two more performances at the Byham between September 13-15, 2001 created a stir soon after the September 11 tragedies that hit America. Anita opened the work with Rabindranath Tagore's poem "Where the Mind is without fear". Over 300 people attended the show and joined in a tearful but elated ovation at the conclusion.

The work impressed many presenters in the USA and was invited to America's most prestigious performing arts university, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, in March 2002. This was followed by a one week residency on campus, in Indian classical and contemporary dance. DUST visited several cities in the U.S. in spring 2003.

India Tour
On a whirlwind tour of India in 2002, DUST visited Hyderabad, Chennai and New Delhi to a tumultous response. ANITA RATNAM, Artistic Director, comments on the collaboration: "I feel that the whole idea of a collaboration is not to be seduced by some fashion or particular trend, just because you want to do something international. The time of flirting with all these things has passed. For me, the joy of DUST is in the fact that two distinct languages have come together to create a third, universal one. It is an intense work, a struggle - a cathartic performance. It is not about beauty or grace. It is about the spirit, the struggle the soul has with the idea of bliss. It is not about being on the edge - it is about falling off the edge without a parachute!"

MARK TAYLOR, Artistic Director seconds her thoughts, "Besides adventure, there is a deep spiritual element in Alexandra David-Neel's work. In my life I have integrated an attitude towards spirituality and that makes it easy to converse with someone like Anita from a spiritual tradition of dance. She is also looking for a chance to contemporise it with relevance to contemporary global economy. She is searching from that direction and I am searching from mine. That was a natural meeting point."

The dancers speak of the constant rediscovery and pushing of one's skills:
ANUSHA: It has been so exciting working with both Mark and Anita and working with a new idiom.

NARENDRA: The learning was difficult but we really prepared and practised...its been great.

GWEN: It was a challenge to 'try to' learn Bharatanatyam which is very expressive and more narrative... I found spirituality woven into the training and performance.

ANDRE: DUST was like bringing different backgrounds in dance together. Gwen and I generated much material on Alexandra Daveid-Neel even before Anita and Mark started to train us. But looking at the piece now, it all seems to blend - our own research and their training. As if it all always belonged together.

A brief look city-wise:

DUST might go a long way in building bridges as well as accepting differences, in cultural understanding of the arts.
- R.Uma Maheshwari, THE HINDU, Hyderabad,Wednesday, December 4, 2002

The dance technique used a combination of the dynamics of Bharatanatyam and contemporary post-modern movement forms.
- YASODA THAKORE, Nartanam, October-December, 2002

A collaboration between traditional Bharatanatyam, post modern movement forms and Japanese Butoh, between the spiritual and the earthy- the quartet told the audience a story without saying a word, just leaping, swirling, falling, rolling and thak-a-thi-thomming - Chinmaya Heritage Mission Hall was packed. Nobody moved or spoke...
- CITY EXPRESS, Thursday, December 5, 2002

A very thought-provoking venture... DUST can be interpreted in many ways...Like abstract art, dance in its myriad forms can be just rhythms - of feet and body... It is a process of learning and letting the spaces in the mind and outside be filled with ideas.
- CHITRA MAHESH, The Hindu, Friday, December 6, 2002

The beautiful Chinmaya Auditorium was filled to capacity with dance enthusiasts. And they were not disappointed. The intense imagery wrapped itself around the audience encasing them in their journey through the sometimes frenzied and expansive motions... Dressed in a poor Tibetian's garb, the dancers performed movements that seemed mostly contemporary and American post modern, but every now and again broke into an interlude of Bharatanatyam 'adavus,' so regularly that it felt like a refrain... The wide stances, the expansive movements of the limbs added a lot of effervescence to the production, and the combined energies on stage remained on a high.
- ROOPA SRIKANTH, www.horizons.com, December 2002

Anita Ratnam can easily be called the mother of cross-cultural collaborations in classical dance... DUST was at its most successful when all the four (dancers) danced together. One image when the forusome are in one heap that starts throwing out a plume as in a desert storm, was most evocative... a memorable image.
- SHANTA SERBJEET SINGH, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dust that single speck of form on which Anita and Mark have built their dreams may not crumble with the shifting sands of time for it is rooted in tradition and culture.
- SUJATA B. SHAKEEL,HTCity, New Delhi, Saturday, 7 December 2002

Besides thematic novelty and innovative craft, the other hallmarks of DUST are the music composed by Alice Shields.
- FIRST CITY, New Delhi, December 2002

Back Stage
The Artistic Directors speak about this multi-cultural collaboration:

ANITA RATNAM: "I'm always interested in doing things and going places I've never been with dance!" says Ratnam, the acclaimed choreographer/dancer and cultural activist based at Chennai. "I would hate to call this a "fusion" work. I've taken the spatial challenges of modern dance and the attacking geometry of Bharatanatyam to really take the choreography to a third place.

It's been a wondrous process of discovery - Americans are about I, me, myself. It's the opposite of Indians, who always think in the collective - we are never about ourselves. American dance has a sense of irreverence and is slightly narcissistic. You can create a dance about a couple in the street walking. An Indian choreographer couldn't even begin to think about that. So we had to come to a different kind of aesthetic," Anita adds.

"In the creation of DUST, Mark and I realised that we could not work with 'dumb' dancers. Dancers who waited like mute clay in anticipation of being fashioned did not interest us. What we wanted was intelligent, vibrant artistes who could take possession and ownership of the work and partner us in the entire process", she said.

Anita further elaborated, "Creating DUST was fraught with danger and joy. The intensity of the electronic music without the familiar beats that Indian dancers could relate to, the technique of counting silently that we had to learn from our American counterparts, the ability to 'breathe' throughout the strenuous work so that stamina remained constant. These were some of the very valuable lessons that we, the Indians, learned through the process.

A 3-hour BUTOH workshop experience in the city of Pittsburgh convinced me that this Japanese dance technique was what we would use to show David-Neel's slow and arduous journey from the West to the East. Most valuable of all the experiences to our Indian group was the discipline and commitment to body culture demonstrated by the Americans and the vital need to perform warm-ups before a performance. Understanding how our bodies worked and how we could avoid common injuries to our lower backs and our knees was an invaluable insight shared by Mark Taylor due his extensive work in a technique called BODY MIND CENTERING.

DUST was a critical hit with audiences in the USA and successfully toured India in 2002. However, my most valuable memories is not the completed work itself but the process that helped to shape its final personality.

My commitment to collaboration continues stronger than ever"

MARK TAYLOR: "I've had a fascination with David-Neel's stories for years," he says. "DUST is very much about the counter-point/dialogue between Indian and postmodern techniques. The creative process has been ardous for the wonderful dancers, who have had to both learn and unlearn dance techniques inorder to create the work in the four short weeks we have had together. There are kinetic, aesthetic and cultural interfaces. It's a deeply realized work," Taylor acknowledges.

The excitement of discovery is evident in his voice as he explains, "This is what I want to do with my life. I don't like to do what I know how to do. And I can't rest until I bring the thrill of each collaboration to fruition."

ANUSHA SUBRAMANIAM, who plays the lead role of Alexandra David-Neel in DUST, describes her experience: "DUST has altogether been such a lovely experience for me!

From the choreographic process itself, the collaborative intent was very clear. It was very exciting to see how the dancers abstracted from each others' dances.

I really liked the enthusiasm Mark and Anita generated, to get the best from us. They were perfectly balanced counterpoints for each other - when one person was happy and encouraged our progress, the other became more critical and demanding! Mark is such a friendly and sensitive person and gave us such a patient and open hearing that we felt our contributions were part of the choreograpy too! Anita too has such a different eye from the usual Indian and Bharatanatyam view point and taught us so much.

As a production, it evoked total involvement from all concerned. I was amazed to see Barbara Thompson's commitment towards the lighting design that began even before the studio process! She (as well as others from within the company), used to sit through our rehearsals and offer so many ideas from a non-dance perspective - her creation of the "golden square" of light was simply amazing!

DUST has really made me aware of the importance of everyone working together - all good work doesn't happen with a single person - unless a team gets totally involved, the work can't shape up! This is my first collaboration that has evoked such positive feelings through out. There were no altercations or egos, the TEAM concept was evident all the way and the overall helpful and friendly atmosphere helped all of us to learn better!"

Acclaim for DUST
A panel of dance writers across the north eastern United States were asked to pick their BEST CHOREOGRAPHIC CHOICES OF THE YEAR and two critics picked DUST as their choice for 2001.

With its skillful juxtaposition of a solitary slow moving figure contrasted against a faster-paced downstage trio and subsequent unison passages for the quartet, this viable fusion of contemporary movement and East Indian dance traditions created memorable imagery.
2001's Choreographic Gems: May 04-05, September 13-15, Mark Taylor's and Anita Ratnam's impressive collaboration "DUST"
Courtesy: Selected Reviews by Odile-von-Rothbart@lycos.com

DUST emerged with a new dramatic clarity... it utilized the Indian concept of space and the sharp rhythms of the Bharatanatyam style. Taylor added the modern dance ideals of shape and form in the knotted landscape of interacting bodies. The unifying thread, besides Alice Shield's remarkable electronic score, became David-Neel herself... "
- Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Dance and Music Critic
Courtesy: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 14, 2001

"... dance stretched to new limits when "Dust" settled on Dance Alloy... The mood switched back and forth from solemn to playful with the image of dust sprinkled throughout the piece. Taylor and Ratnam based the piece on a Joan of Arc-like figure in Buddhist history, but there was no storyline. Instead, it was the strength of Subramanyam's pace diagonally across the stage that signified the strength and vulnerability of women... a refreshing approach to modern dance with an artistic approach to an ancient art."
- Kristine Sorensen
Courtesy: Pittsburgh Tribune, May 7, 2001

"DUST was a combination that put their respective companies on equal footing ... Subramanyam became a David-Neel character, (while) the remaining three dancers became the particles of movement inside dust... Alice Shield's exotic electronic score and the lighting design added greatly to the overall mood... To their credit, the seams between the two choreographers were barely noticeable and the work remained true to one voice - that of David-Neel."
- Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Dance and Music Critic
Courtesy: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 5, 2001

by CHITRA SUNDARAM, Sruti, August 2002

The state-of-the arts Lang Performing Arts Center at Swarthmore College boasts a massive 7000 sft. auditorium as well as the College's Departments of Theatre, Literature and Dance. DUST was honoured with a special performance here in March 2002.

In the words of CHITRA SUNDARAM, who witnessed DUST and wrote about it in SRUTI (August 2002), "The collaboration was a treat in that beautiful auditorium. Narendra clearly revelled in the contemporary sections and Anusha astonished us with her beautiful 17-minute imperceptible walk across the stage. Choreographed with warmth, humour and poignancy, DUST was a fitting finale."

by JANE VRANISH, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Friday, September 14, 2001

In the light of recent events, Dance Alloy's artistic director, Mark Taylor, took the Byham Theater stage and hoped the sudience would "see the performance as a celebration and prayer for all those who've died." His collaborator, Indian choreograpger Anita Ratnam, then recited the words from Nobel-prize winning poet Rabindranath Tagore, "The Song of the Spirit".

Ratnam was probably the primary reason the show went on last night. Originally this was to be the opening event for the Northeast Performing Arts Council and the Alloy
decided to reprise the Taylor/Ratnam work "Dust", based on the writings and story of explorer Alexandra David-Neel, the first European woman to enter the forbidden city of Lhasa, Tibet.
The Alloy imported Ratnam and two of her dancers for the occasion, which also served as a prelude to an upcoming tour of India in December. "Dust" emerged with a new dramatic clarity. It was a hybrid work that utilized the Indian concept of space, with a small square of light defining the dance arena, and the sharp rhythms of the Bharatanatyam style. Taylor added the modern dance ideals of shape and form in the knotted landscape of interacting bodies.

The unifying thread, besides Alice Shields' remarkable electronic score, became David-Neel herself, portrayed with an inner strength by Anusha Subramanyam. She entered on the upper diagonal, slowly shedding her European dress, then blending with three beggar-like figures in an intense exchange before continuing on her way...

by Kristine Sorensen

Pittsburgh dance stretched to new limits when "Dust" settled on Dance Alloy at the Byham Theater for its 25th anniversary Saturday.

The collaboration with the Pittsburgh-based company and Arangham Dance Theater from Madras, India created a unique blend of American modern and traditional Indian dancing in the piece "Dust."

Mysticism swept over the stage as Anusha Subramanyam's slow, deliberate movement transfixed the audience. Her unwavering focus revealed an internal power not seen in the American dancers - a difference more of style than technique.

Dance Alloy's Mark Taylor worked with Anita Ratnam of India to bring the two cultures together, using an original composition by Alice Shields. Together, they created an excellent balance and smooth transitions between traditional movement and abstractions from that.

The mood switched back and forth from solemn to playful with the image of dust sprinkled throughout the piece. Taylor based the piece on a Joan of Arc-like figure in Buddhist history, but there was no storyline. Instead, it was the strength of Subramanyam's pace diagonally across the stage that signified the strength and vulnerability of women.

The dancers' different cultural styles became apparent when the four danced together - two American and two Indian. The Indian dancers held their torsos tall and straight in a regal manner, whereas the Americans tended to begin all movement of extremities from their torso. The Indian dancers' quick flickers of the wrists and ankles was more staccato than those of the Americans. And the Indians seemed to focus internally, whereas the Americans danced more aware of each other and the space around them. This is less a criticism than an observation - one that was interesting to see.

The mix of American and Indian cultures carried through in the costumes - a blend of loose-fitting pants and shirts with rope-tied vests in Indian fabric. The music, however, stuck too close to tradition and often was piercing to the point of distracting from the dance. The high-pitched sound was even painful at times.

Still, "Dust" took a refreshing approach to modern dance with an artistic approach to an ancient art.

Courtesy: Pittsburgh Tribune, May 7, 2001
- Kristine Sorensen is a reporter for WTAE-TV.
She has a bachelor's degree in dance from the College of William and Mary and a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Sorensen has danced in companies for 10 years and continues to study dance in Pittsburgh.

By Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Dance and Music Critic

It was a time to celebrate for the Dance Alloy last night at the Byham Theater. A 25th anniversary is a major milestone for any dance company, particularly in today's economic climate. But, true to form, Dance Alloy celebrated with deep-rooted, inspired performances rather than bright and joyous incantations. So there was a great deal to give pause for reflection.

Alloy Artistic Director Mark Taylor paired with Indian choreographer Anita Ratnam in yet another major cultural collaboration with "DUST", a work based on the writings and story of Alexandra David-Neel, a female explorer from the 1920s who was the first European to venture into the forbidden city of Lhasa in Tibet.

It was acombination that put their respective companies on equal footing. The Alloy used Gwen Hunter Ritchie and Andre Koslowski and Ratnam offered L Narendra Kumar and Anusha Subramanyam.

Subramanyam became a David-Neel character, proceeding slowly on the diagonal in her spiritual quest. In the meantime, the remaining three dancers literally brushed the dust from the stage and then became the particles of movement inside it.

Alice Shield's exotic electronic score, replete with Tibetan trumpets and an Indian singing voice, and Barbara Thompson's lighting design, with its overhead spots, a golden ring of light and a fragmented wash, added greatly to the overall mood. Much of the movement seemed indelibly printed with Eastern influences - the low-slung plies, angular poses and rhythmic foot accents. But the lifts and spatial elements came from an American direction. To their credit, the seams between the two choreographers were barely noticeable and the work remained true to one voice - that of David-Neel...

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