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As an artiste who crosses boundaries and genres Anita Ratnam has forged alliances with several international dance and theater companies to create full length evening works for world audiences. In each collaboration, her keen aesthetic, rooted Indianness and avant garde vision can be seen at play.

"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. That still, vibrant center can be arrived at by confronting the rigidity of our personal definitions and limitations. Once that confrontation occurs, you realize that the only path to follow is working together through the visions of various disciplines and the artists who phrase and articulate their craft powerfully

In almost every intersection of cultures, there are worlds within worlds. In every art form there is a dialogue, some said and others mostly unsaid. In my work the attempt is to create encounters and moments of intersection.

I grew up in an India where there was a constant juxtaposition of Indian traditions with the colonial ethos in education and lifestyle. A convent school education with a daily dose of 'Moral Science' classes and a college degree in English Literature provided several windows to the great poets and playwrights of the West. At home, there was the mandatory study of the Tamil and Sanskrit texts along with classes in classical music and dance.

By the time I was eighteen, I was well on my way to being a 'hyphenated Indian'. As one of the several thousand immigrant women who travelled to North America in the mid seventies, every notion of 'self',' identity' and 'indian-ness' was violently challenged. College, romance, marriage, kids and a television career on permanent over-drive in the anonymous 'salad-bowl' called New York City further cemented the duality within me, already split along the sun signs cusp of Taurus and Gemini." Anita Ratnam



Collaborative Encounters

"In cross-cultural collaboration, my work evolves out of layers and layers contributed by poets, 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.

In every collaboration I attempt to cross intellectual frontiers as well as geographic ones. What can I learn? How can I grow? These are my constant questions.
The biggest challenge in cross-cultural work is to avoid distractions and a tendency to dilute both forms. Inherent in the understanding and performances of a poetic piece is metaphor and multiple interpretations. This creates opportunity for artists from different genres to give their interpretation through their disciplines - visual arts, lighting, music...

How do I do all this without having training in any dance styles except Bharatanatyam, Kathakali and Mohiniattam? I have learnt that the expressions of the body are infinite and we need to unlearn some of our training in order to open ourselves up to the entire vocabulary available to us as dancers. In doing so we will not be unfaithful to our source but in tradition is the basis of our cultural DNA, we can begin to become world citizens in the increasingly exciting world of art." Anita Ratnam

As a part of a series of international collaborations with choreographers, composers and dance historians, Anita Ratnam and Arangham Dance Theatre worked with Sanskrit scholar Devesh Soneji (Canada) and artiste Hari Krishnan (Canada), to create Movements Monuments (1996).

Among her more prominent international collaborations are A Map to the Next World (1997) with Joy Harjo & Poetic Justice, USA and Pratirupa (1997) with modern dancer Alexandra Romanova, Germany.

Anita Ratnam was a guest artiste and played the title role in Kannagi at the Singapore Festival of Arts, June,1998, and was invited to choreograph an act in The Inner World (1998) for the Pangea World Theatre Minneapolis, USA.

In 2001, after a multi-year exchange between the two choreographers and their companies, Anita Ratnam, (Artistic Director, ADT, India) and Mark Taylor (Artistic Director, Dance Alloy, Pittsburgh, USA), premiered their 30-minute work Dust, with original music by composer Alice Shields at the Byham Theater, Pittsburgh, in May 2001. It had another two performances at the Byham between September 13-15, 2001, followed by a performance at America's most prestigious performing arts university, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, in February 2002.

In November December 2002, DUST toured India and received an overwhelming response. (Check Dust - India Tour for more details).

As Principal Choreographer with Lata Pada's members of Sampradaya Dance Company, Toronto, Anita Ratnam premiered Hyphenated, a 20 minute dance work set on 5 Indo-Canadian dancers in September 2001.

In 2005 Anita Ratnam worked again with US/Canada- based Hari Krishnan on her new solo choreography 7 Graces... the many hues of Goddess Tara , a minimalistic work that draws inspiration from a rich kinetic landscape of movement including Bharatanatyam, Chinese Wu-Shu martial arts, Modern Dance, Tibetan liturgical chants and Zen Buddhism.

With Canada's renowned multi-disciplinary artiste, Peter Chin, Anita plans to create another solo work Vortext that will have its world premiere in two years.



Workshops

"A dancer's body is a landscape of experiences, an anthology of images, of texts, of a database of knowledge. With each new encounter I strengthen my awareness of what it is to be a woman, an artiste, an Indian.

My responsibility of who I am and what I project becomes more and more acute. The "I" in Interculturalism confronts me with the 'other'. This cross pollination of art and life, of character and self, female and male all echoes the Vedic concept " I am the world". And perhaps to broaden that demands of the artists and me I collaborate with, a level of synergistic accountability. Often it can deteriorate into what we call "avial" or "khichdi", (Indian dishes containing a mix of items) a little bit of everything thrown in and nothing really melding but sticking out like eyesores.

Instead of circling each other for a brief moment of earnest intention and then drifting away again to the comfort of our own specificities on encountering differences, we must learn to journey together, spiralling around one another, defining and redefining value systems until we finally arrive at the center together." Anita Ratnam


Workshops by Anita Ratnam & ADT


Workshops by visiting artistes



Conferences

Anita has travelled with her work, from the Far East to Europe to the United States, to perform, choreograph, conduct workshops and participate in seminars and conferences on Dance, Theatre and Arts Management.

"Can a dancer work with a sculptor, a painter, a poet, a filmmaker? In Indian dance we deal with the aesthetics of form, formalism and 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..." Anita Ratnam




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