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a handful of dust
a dance theatre presentation by Anita Ratnam and ensemble
Responses to AVANI staged at Alliance Francaise, Chennai
* Working with Anita Ratnam for her project AVANI - A HANDFUL OF
DUST, gave me a closer look at Tagore's poetry. It has always been
amazing and fun to collaborate because Anita Ratnam has complete clarity
over what she wants, yet completely leaving to the individual artistic
talents of the people she works with, to bring out the design she
imagines. This opens up the piece in many more ways as it has inputs
from everyone, yet keeping the comprehensibility intact.
Every little sound, piece of music and silence has a very carefully
designed place in the piece. It also gave me the opportunity to work
with Navin Iyer – flautist extraordinaire, Bindhu Malini - the brilliant
singer and Krishna Kishor the multi-percussionist. Musically, a very
rewarding experience. It all came together when I saw the performance,
up close and right up on the stage, as a performer along with Anita
Ratnam, Averee Chaurey and Akhila Ramnarayan.
- Vedanth Bharadwaj (composer and singer), Oct 15, 2012
* Language is a barrier ... and you have broken it by bringing in a
medium of English into it so that the new gen can understand, slicing it
with interceptions o f dance and music and above all the beautiful
visual treats. Among the youth I have noticed they have a pre-conceived
notion of dance, of Bharatanatyam, and they think it’s old fashioned.
At this time of Retro when "old is new" it is also important to the
leadership in every art to understand that it is time to bridge the gap.
And AVANI did it ... It made Tagore look young and contemporary.
- Rashmi Menon (fashion consultant), Oct 4, 2012
* 1. Your vast experience and exposure to cross-cultural ideas was evident once again in Avani !
2. In the intimate setting of AF, sets, costumes, lighting, music, dance and theatre was woven seamlessly into a rich tapestry .
3. The silhouette of a tree, a clothesline with kurtas and fabrics,
established the backdrop of the verandah of a house very clearly even
before the performance could commence.
4. The dramatic costume in black and white, with a tinge of red ,
peering through another layer brought with it the Bengal flavour in a
most unobtrusive manner .
5. Interesting facts about Tagore's connection with other legends like
Kalki and Muthuswami Dikshitar were presented in brief snippets in a
form of a quiet conversation of poetry, music and dance.
6. Against the stark black and white backdrop, the sequence where
colourful flowers from a basket were strewn around, was a visual
spectacle. Reminded me of the German film " HEIMET" .
7. Visually, each segment moved smoothly into the next holding the viewer's interest.
- V V RAMANI (collage artiste and designer)
* ‘Avani’ was a thoughtful experience. Combining movement with
words and music, Anita Ratnam created an experience one might
alternately entitle "An evening with Tagore." Memories of Tagore were
woven in with his words, as one might expect, but the real surprise was
the interplay of other sounds and other writers' words as if to
underscore the universality of Tagore's thought. The choreography
reflected the structure and mood of the performance with the weight of
the movements reflecting Anita's (ours, the earth's) journey from hope
to despair. I was also impressed by the improvisational quality of the
work: There was a "script"; there was a set design; there was recorded
speech and music (that was very good); but with different members of the
"Avani" team able to attend on different days, there was also the
freshness of an improvised performance, customised to those present on
- Swarna Rajagopalan (political scientist)
* Rabindranath Tagore was an enigma. And that’s the word I can
associate with AVANI as well. The reflections of the poet about the
mundane or the monumental, was always surrounded by a mystic allure. Dr.
Ratnam danced, spoke and walked through the shafts of his work as if
she was consumed by that necromancy. The words, songs, flowers, leaves
and dust sequenced one after the other walked us through the thoughts
and life of this anomalous saint-like man. His inspiration from Kabir,
Muthuswamy Dikshitar or Wordsworth was a celebration of his
As an ardent devotee of Bharatiyar, I am one who is never short of
amusement when mentions are made about Kalki’s early denouncement and
later renouncement of his comments on Bharathi compared to Tagore. I was
pleasantly amused and sheepishly elated, if I may confess when this was
brought up in AVANI.
Bashonti- the charmer of the Universe certainly charmed me. I was
bewitched by how the lotus eyed Goddess was animated in the flowers,
clouds and colours of life. Speaking of colours, the hues on the stage
left one looking for a meaning within what was meant. They blended with
the performer’s thoughts and movements. The subtle Kolkata connections
with the red alta smeared feet, the anklets, the occasional red bindi
and the Goddess Kali were impressions of this global Bengali.
In all, I walked in excited and walked out pensive. Anita Ratnam
switched so effortlessly between her to him that I may like to add as
the sixth handful- thoughts.
- Swarnamalya Ganesh (dancer-scholar)
* It is not easy to pull off a show which is an amalgam of Tagore
and Tamil Nadu, the modern and the classical, storytelling and
movements, the traditional and the abstract and many more. Anita Ratnam
managed to do that in Avani, a handful of dust. The performance never
alienated the Tamil audience while keeping the core of Tagore and the
Bengali ethos intact. Anita always excels in the usage of space. The
decor was minimal, aesthetic and managed to create the Bengali ambience.
Anita brought the poetry, music, dance and theatre together with
perfect ease. The music worked and Averee Chaurey and Akhila Ramnarayan
helped bring to life this splendid dance theatre performance.
- Sushila Ravindranath (senior journalist)
* In stark contrast to Rabindranath Tagore’s other poems,
“Prithvi” is a dark, graphic eulogy to Mother Earth, and it echoes what
the great sages and philosophers of India have prophesized would happen
during Kali Yuga. Inevitable physical and moral degradation ensue
as anarchy and avarice fill the minds of people to the detriment of
Therefore, the most poignant moment of Anita Ratnam’s “AVANI…a handful
of dust” was her bold interpretation of this prophetic poem.
Faithful to Tagore’s words, Anita depicted Mother Earth as a woman
brutally vandalized and exploited, damaged by mankind’s incessant
greed. The cogent use of goddess imagery – so central to
Bengali spirituality – was also an apt touch.
- Kiran Rajagopalan (Bharatanatyam dancer)
* I especially loved the last segment of AVANI. Anita got so much
into the skin of the character, that she became one with it. It was
- Shanmugha Sundaram (Bharatanatyam dancer)
On 30th March I attended a performance of ‘Avani, a Handful
of Dust’ at NCPA (Mumbai) created and performed by Anita Ratnam and
troupe. I have been in Mumbai for one year and have seen quite a few
Indian contemporary dance programs. Most of them were just a copy of
western contemporary dance theatre (P. Baush, Palucca, Limon), mixed
with Bharatanatyam steps or something else.
Eventually in ‘Avani’ I found someone who is developing a contemporary
style which is not a copy but a new approach using lots of hand gestures
and steps from the Indian classical tradition, interpreted in a modern
idiom. There was poetry, singing, acting and dancing, very well blended
together and the Tagore theme was nicely approached and made simple,
friendly to the audience.
I really appreciated the beautiful soundtrack done technically very well
(no distortion as we have often witnessed in many programs). A
professional touch for every detail.
- Giovanna L J, April 6, 2012
(ballerina from Italy, living in Mumbai)
The first thing that really caught my eye was the use of the stage..!!
Normally dancers dance at center-stage. But in your performance you used
every corner of the stage and that had a huge impact. Every spot was a
center-stage. The second thing was your use of the props, creating the
ambience of a typical house in Kolkata.
In the first Handful - Dust, you danced on the staircase landing making
it a stage, which was something I had never thought of. I really loved
your concept of connecting Bengal and Tamil Nadu that was prominent
throughout your performance. Especially the beautiful blend of Carnatic
music and Rabindra Sangeet in Third Handful – Flowers, where you showed
the connection between Meenakshi (composed by Muthuswamy Dikshitar) and
The Goddess of spring (Bashonti - by Rabindranath Tagore). Another
feature of your performance that blew me away was the part where you
showed the destruction on earth. The action showing the serpent was my
favourite. I haven't read Tagore's work so much but after watching your
performance I do intend to start reading.
- Anjana Ghonasgi, April 5, 2012