Thursday 1 February 2018

Anita says...February 2018

February 1, 2018

The arts of Asia are blessed with the syncretic traditions of interior monologues and societal change. Not so the European models of performance that relegated myth and the human spirit in the care of the Church and performance to only reflect secular themes. This dismissal of stylization and a relaxation into naturalism has caused so much of Western performance traditions to be lost.
- Joseph Campbell
The Ecstasy of Being

It was a month of tumultuous words and events that left many of us heart sick and exhausted. The volume and velocity of hate against women who are no longer with us to defend themselves or have their stories heard - vicious and unrelenting attacks against female performers and poets -  in my home state of Tamilnadu has seen the ugly head of MISOGYNY and HYPOCRISY surface in the very first month of the year.

2018 is the Chinese year of the DOG - an animal that is considered intelligent, faithful and intuitive. It is also a synonym for CUR - a pejorative for a dumb, idiotic, addlebrained MAN who devours and demolishes creative women as “immoral”. The D word continued to haunt the cultural and political space all through December and January. D for Devadasi. D for Devouring. D for Destruction. D for Desecration.

Between the headline grabbing comments of musician TM Krishna about Carnatic musician MS SUBBULAKSHMI and film lyricist Vairamuthu against mystic poet-goddess ANDAL, the Tamil community around the world was up in arms and social media was afire with the most foul and vitriolic stream of diatribe.

Women today who dance, sing, sculpt, act, paint and write have all been inspired by those incredible women who held their own in a man’s world conscripted by Kings, Nobles and  Zamindars. To use these creative women as a deck of cards to be dealt and gathered up at will is both cruel and dangerous. To use caste again and again to either demean or insult other communities only reveals how little India has progressed in its 70th year of independence. What is even worse is to use the D for DASI word to slander not only the women featured in the speeches but also to tarnish an entire community of hereditary women as foul and tainted. How terrible and troubling this is! 

It was also a month of revelations. That mystic poet/goddess ANDAL has power and commands collective devotion amongst ALL TAMILS who gathered in many cities and towns in protest of Vairamuthu’s comments came as a surprise to many. For a week ANDAL became among the top ten searches on Google! The protest against TM Krishna’s comment about MSS was contained to the dance and music community and relatively more niche in comparison.

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  1. Must respectfully disagree with the commentary about the Nrityagram Dashavatar performance. I am a nobody, just a Rasika, a dance enthusiast, and I spoke to and observed many other such nobodies like me, and the Dashavatar piece was refreshing. What reached out and grabbed me, was their incredible training but also that they were truly enjoying themselves. With humour and humility, ryhthm and rhyme and a crispness in choreography, they drew a lot of the audience in. Mamis sat up from slumped positions, and turned off their cell phone screens for once. A few 'Somebodies' chuckled at the references. The stuffy air of Music Academy was let out a little... The storytelling was clear, concise and marvelously edited. Surupa Sen's sophisticated diction and flawless cadence was a huge plus in my mind, not sure what you are objecting to there. Far being stale, this was some of the freshest fruit, on offer that I saw. Just wanted to present a differing opinion to your readers.

    An ex-Chennaiite

  2. Hello. I was in the audience. I heard people in my row and a couple of rows behind me chuckling when Surupa Sen said "the gods had a funny notion" and proceeded to rhyme it with "milky ocean". They actually laughed out loud when she repeated "big bang theory" the second/third time. I think by then their shock had worn off, and they had realized they were free to laugh and enjoy themselves. I remember that when Bijayini Satpathy walked in as Vamana, people clapped from the entry until she reached center stage. I overheard two people next to me eagerly (and quickly) discussing why krishna was not a part of this dance. I remember the sudden, terrifying moment of narashima -- I knew of course that there was going to be narashima because I was looking at the prahaladha story, but somehow I didn't expect it in that moment when it happened. I think this was true for others also, because they broke out in sudden, stunned applause. And the rapid scene switches in the ramayana!!! Only later, while trying to recall that segment accurately to my mother and groping for words to describe my experience did I realize the meticulous precision with which the choreographer had directed the viewer's eye in that segment. I especially remember the lightning switches from surpanaka going to ravana's court, to sita being dragged by ravana, to that spectacular battle between rama, lakshmana and ravana, when the audience again broke out in claps. After it all ended, when I got up to join the standing ovation -- honestly, it was an endless ovation -- I saw widely grinning faces all around me.

    There were several things that I found utterly fascinating in this performance and talked with friends endlessly about (about art, tradition, classical-ness, costume, storytelling, how we perceive our myths, etc), but I'll skip those things. This is not an account of Nrityagram's artistry.

    I want to present a single fact that is easily verifiable: I heard the audience clap several times in the middle of Dashavatar and they stopped each time because Surupa Sen continued the narration.

    There is nothing subjective about that. You can see/hear it in the academy video archives when they show up soon. Since this account differs wildly from the one presented in, I have to assume that Anita walked out early and missed most of the recital.