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Daughters of the Ocean (discovering the goddess within...) - Back Stage
A Contemporary Dance Theatre Production by Anita Ratnam & ADT
60 mins, 1999

Author of "Daughters of the Ocean"

How lucky we are when we can stand back a while and see the patterns that life makes! I first heard about the beautiful and talented Anita Ratnam, her dance programmes and her academic successes, when I was in my teens.

Then life took us on our separate paths, arduous, painful, pleasurable.

Twenty five years later, Anita called me from New York to say she had read my book "Daughters of the Ocean" and wanted to choreograph a dance around those Hindu goddess myths.

Though I had not written this book for dance, I was delighted!

I had written "Daughters of the Ocean" as a mother's gift to her daughter. It was an open invitation to see how ancient Hindu myths can help us to find patterns in our lives and to understand ourselves.

When I saw Anita's creative interpretation of my book, I was moved to tears. She had artistically, intelligently and with great honesty captured in it – the essence of Indian philosophy. If we have to find a purpose to life, then it must be to tear the "maya" away and re-discover the "goddess/divinity" within us all. That is the seed of our understanding and equilibrium, that grows into our tree of passion and compassion and the life-giving sap that nourishes the wisdom and the humour with which we spend our days.

I have never invested so much in a production before! This has been one of the longest journeys we've made - we began in August 1998 and "Daughters of the Ocean" took 2 years to evolve. The process has been fraught with great dangers of personal illness, injury and stress.

The first lines of Shobita's book written to her daughters, Samiha, caught my attention three years ago. My daughter Arya, born in New York, is growing up in an India caught in many time cycles... What is India in her imagination and how does she, like millions of urban teenagers, navigate the confusing signals of image, myth, metophor, to forge a contemporary meaning for myself?

"Daughters of the Ocean" is a difficult, risky exercise - there is so little learned movement, so much improvisation. Holding the attention of an impatient urban audience, while keeping the narrative and body language appealing, was a challenge for the ensemble. Three months of rigorous exercises, brainstorming, group ensemble and awareness building, went into the molding and building of the stage version of this dance theatre, with English text and dance movements. Krishna kept driving us mercilessly and had us all grumbling. I even nicknamed her "Hitler"! Now, we can't thank her enough!

The choreography is the most unique of all the work I have done. Each of us – Aarti, Narendra, Joy and myself – has brought a slice of our lives into this work; this is our combined offering. It is our shared endeavour.

What has emerged is a new way of story telling, a new language which is modern, contemporary and essentially Indian. I will treasure the experience.

As the oldest member of the ensemble, my own life has travelled a longer path than my 3 colleagues. The river of my memories has been very difficult and painful to fathom. Each time the process is like a catharsis. I am inevitably reduced to tears. The blurring between artiste and woman is both scary and wonderful for me…

I have always found challenge and modernity in Anita Akka's approach but with "Daughters of the Ocean" it has been a complete discovery. Through the intense training and explorations of body movements, I slowly realized my potential as a dancer - that I "owned" a movement at the count of eight and it then became part of the choreography. Learning to develop total trust - as dancers, as a team – is another thing I'm so grateful I discovered through this work. I had wondered if it would be ever possible to reveal "the ocean" within oneself, without using easier Bharatanatyam gestures. I have discovered to my astonishment that metaphorical images can be conveyed and vividly too, through this approach! In fact, every time I perform "Daughters of the Ocean", I feel my movements and energy as a dancer becoming stronger, positively reaching out to the audience.

This has been a totally different work from the other performances I have done. I have such a different feeling whenever I perform "Daughters of the Ocean". There is tremendous scope for improvisation and creativity even while performing. Since there are four dancers, body awareness and control is so vital. We have to understand the spaces between each other, how to fill the spaces with energy and maintain eye contact too. Another unique aspect to this work is the lack of male/female roles – a gender free movement structure. The "speaking" role is new for me as a dancer but I enjoy it and feel it adds more sincerity and dimension to the work.

I loved the book and the process but, initially, I hated the work – I just couldn't understand where it was leading to. I am not new to contemporary performance, but I felt I was on a road I'd never taken before. Consciously tapping reservoirs of personal memory to expand the work was a new area I was charting. The rigorous exercises and training also took its toll on my aching back. But gradually, the depth and variety to our rehearsals kindled my interest. The democratic process of creation/assessment/movement selection was a revelation. Indian dance doesn't usually work this way. Far from it being "Anita's work", "Daughters of the Ocean" evolved through all of us and has become "our work"!