Poems for the Eye - Expressions Of Love, Longing and Loneliness
Dance Theatre Production
60 mins, 1995


Concept, Choreography and Costumes: Anita Ratnam

Music: Madurai N. Krishnan


The Tamil Sangam poems, written in India around the 1st century AD are elegant precursors to the full-blown religious and erotic sentiments that reached its peak between 9th and 12th centuries.The tone of the Sangam poems are wry, ironic, abstract and yet precise. The women were able to embrace all qualities of sensuality with sence. The Sangam poems are replete with images that offer visual and movement possibilities. In "Poems for the Eye" the dance is co-extensive with A.K.Ramanujan's poetic transcreations of the Tamil Sangam world, its sounds, colours, textures and especially movements. The akam love poems speak of a woman's 'interior landscape'. Situations are imagined where women would find themseleves sharing delightful, indiscreet intimacies. Props, whenever used, become metaphors for the unseen presence of man.

The choreographic style employed in this production is Bharatanatyam with all its kinetic tautness and richness of rhythmic expression.

Back Stage
Anita's many years in the United States first as a college student and later as a media professional in New York city gave her a larger perspective about the arts and the role of the performer in society. Ideas about movement, group choreography, dancer training, the intellectual life of the dancer were all topics that she felt very deeply about and boldly explored in her maiden collaboration, POEMS FOR THE EYE.

Her feelings on that first journey to be "a complete dancer":

"My return to India in 1990 was meant to help me create a national voice for myself as an artiste and to fuse my western experience with the inborn Indian aesthetic. At first, it seemed like an impossible task.

I decided that collaboration in my art was the key to my survival as a dance artiste. In affiliating with artistes who were concerned with excellence and not attitude, in aligning with talent and not temperament, I was throwing myself an artistic lifeline and a chance to bridge this chasm of empty rhetoric and bombast that Indian dance had seemed to come to represent.

My first steps towards this journey of artistic partnerships in 1993 was with a homage to the writer-poet AK Ramanujan who had died tragically in the US. Adapting his stunning translations of ancient Tamil love poetry to dance and theatre set me off on an ongoing relationship with language and movement.

Performed by the seaside on a moonlit night, washed clean by a passing rain shower, POEMS FOR THE EYE explored spoken verse in English, stylised and natural movements in Bharatanatyam and the use of simple props like brass pots, bamboo sticks and free-flowing sari fabric. Choosing to move in the Bharatanatyam-mode to the soundscape of English verse was a conscious choice to maintain the integrity of Ramanujan's words which could then be seen as flowing parallel to the choreography. Inviting Chicago-based dancer Krithika Rajagopalan and New York-based actress Rajika Puri into the work enhanced the dramatic tension and interest.

By juxtaposing naturalistic movements like walking, sitting, laughing and teasing one another, the experience was both dance and theatre simultaneously. The age differences between the three of us, normally concealed in classical Bharatanatyam, was made apparent to allow the audience to map out the relationship between the three performers... "mother, daughter and foster-mother?? "Mother and two daughters?" The triangle was provocative and open-ended.

The success of POEMS FOR THE EYE gave me the fillip to continue on my journey of collaboration…"

Critics Speak
Anita Ratnam's novel presentation displayed imagination and intelligence...
- Indian Express

... Anita's explanations gave a clue to what imagination and intelligence can achieve, even in traditional form where people believe that the last word has been said...
- The Hindu

... and there I (Ramjee Chandran) was, spending over an hour discussing Bharatanatyam, without knowing the first difference between a 'mudra' and an 'advertising agency'. But this was a time of education for me. Poems for the Eye ... a Feast for the Mind.
- Bangalore This Fortnight

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