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a million SITA-s - Critics Speak
a Neo Bharatam presentation

Anita's art captures the many avatars of Sita
- Sharada Ramanathan, DC Correspondent, February 5, 2011

There have been a million depictions of Ramayana's Sita over decades of Indian performance even as most of them have conformed to the traditional texts of Valmiki and Kamban. But this one was unique. Anita Ratnam's "A million SITA-S" in the evocative ambience of Amethyst spoke to the multiple dimensions of Sita, creating a profound connect between Sita the protagonist and Anita, her contemporary manifestation.

The stage set under a tree was symbolic of Ravana's Sita. Anita's stunning costume seemed to represent the eclectic Sita. Her imaginative employment of the vastram created fluid variations of Sita's moods. And Anita's picture-perfect stage presence and choreography evoked Sita's resilient power and feminism.

Drawing from traditional and modern feminine texts, and oral narratives even of her grandmother, Anita had clearly transformed studious research into an internalized artistic language. The interpretation ranged from the seminal understanding of the worldly wickedness of Manthara and the feminine empathy for Surpanakha to the vindication of Ahalya . And then, Sita herself as the purposeful force behind all of Rama's trysts with destiny.

Anita's Sita plays with nature to create delightful imageries that only a space like Amethyst can facilitate. The long-stalked lotus becomes a fierce sword and the dragonfly in the garden is virtual reality. It also plays convincingly with her faculties of movement, speech and expression, transcending their grammar, thus never falling into that cliff of contrivance that contemporary dance-theatre experiments have often succumbed to. This Sita, as Anita says in conclusion, could be you or me. She is not boxed in the stereotypes of subservience or insubordination. She is the quintessential (Indian) woman whose multiple dimensions are at once bashful and bold, and strong and subtle, in a way that they enhance, not diminish, her feminism.

The performance had no orchestra. Subiksha and Lakshmi Rangarajan gave professional vocal expression. Viji Krishnan's distinctive violin synergized with the dance and movement. And Kesavan on the percussion resonated effectively.

"A million SITA-s" is a performance that connects Bharatha's ancient prescription of theatre with the here-and-now genre of dance –theatre. It epitomizes the continuous, exploratory and evolving civilization that is India. And through the prism of Indian art, Indian feminism comes of age.

The author is the director of a national award winning Tamil film and a fine arts aficionado.

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