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UTPALA...a thousand petals ...a thousand lives - Choreographer's Note
A contemporary dance-theatre performance by ANITA RATNAM & ADT
75 mins, 2003

If one veers away, consciously, from dance academia's love of jargon and politically correct phrases that connect dance to sociology, anthropology, feminism and other 'isms', then there is little to say in this introductory note.

UTPALA is a radical departure from my previous work. More than my previous solo VAITHARANI - the crossing, this has been slowly taking root and blooming inside of me for a long time. Ever since I encountered that frail flower seller at the crowded market in Bangkok in 2000, the lotus has been moving inside my mind, heart and beneath my eyelids. Several versions and short performances have been attempted before this full-length version.

Even now I feel that there is more that has been unsaid and unwritten in the choreography than what is revealed on stage. The phrase, "a thousand petals, a thousand lives" was added to show the metamorphosis of the human soul through the various 'avatars' of Lord Vishnu. I had developed a section of choreography like a moving painting with Butoh intensity. Two dance-actors melting into the ten incaranations while offering lotuses in prayer. The long diagonal took a full ten minutes and was accompanied by an intense vedic chant. This section got rapturous responses in workshops and short showings but I felt as if I was hitting a block. One section could become the beginning but... and that one word remained. BUT.... (a tiny voice inside) "Beautiful choreography could not be used as a filler if the intellectual framework of the narrative did not ring true for me" (Another tiny voice) "Why should always the mind supersede the moving body? Why can't heart speak instead?" Why can't dancers and choreographers communicate "heart to heart"? Voices... questions... a quiet civil war...

UTPALA slowly grew through several workshops and discussions using Tai Chi as the main motif. My kalari teacher Shaji John suggested this Asian movement form as a beginning. The idea of serenity and detachment could be conveyed beautifully. Strength and contemplation could best physicalised by Tai Chi, he felt. The dancers started three months of training with senior actor/dancer M. Palani. Many times I wanted to give up and work on my own but it seemed that my ideas of still and running water and of lush lotus ponds needed more bodies on the stage.

River as a metaphor for woman, creativity and life is a familiar theme for me since 1988. Ever since DAUGHTERS OF THE OCEAN and the narrative of Goddess Saraswati, the flowing waters have been a predominant backdrop to my work In VAITHARANI (2002) it was the mythical river of death that was explored. And now , UTPALA. The version performed in Kuala Lumpur in May 2003 for Ramli Ibrahim's SUTRA festival has undergone many more avatars. Except for Palani, the original ensemble has changed. The world of the Lotus has expanded to include the stories of ISIS of Egypt, KWAN-YIN of China as companions to the familiar Lakshmi myth from India.

UTPALA - as you watch it - is a work that is just beginning to breathe. No matter how many hours of rehearsal, a performance needs to be mounted, with the alchemy of audience and performer, for the actual work of creation to begin. Chennai, my hometown, has always been a wonderful touchstone for my creative journey. Using my signature idioms of acting, singing, chanting, classical rhythms and contemporary movements discovered through ensemble improvisations, UTPALA has been a patient canvas for our collective search for meaning and movement.

To the generous and patient dancers I offer my gratitude and a special salute. To organizers and presenters who have invited me knowing that it may not be a safe work to program, I offer my continued appreciation. To the musicians who have contributed so brilliantly to this eclectic score, a special thank you for the haunting soundscape to my imagination. To all my friends and colleagues who have guided and stimulated me through this very difficult year, this is my offering as a tribute to your unflinching faith and unconditional love.

Anita Ratnam
Artistic Director & Choreographer
Chennai, December 2004