I’m a feminist with a sense of vigilant responsibility, says eminent artiste Dr Anita Ratnam

Mumbai,latha srinivasan: She has seen her share of tragedies and triumphs and is today a danseuse and arts entrepreneur sans pareil. Dr Anita Ratnam’s dance pieces today are contemporary, with women as the subject. In fact, her recent work ‘A Million Sitas’ brings into focus many of the silent women in the Ramayana. In an interview to dna, Dr Ratnam talks about classical dance, women in Indian society and why they need to be empowered.

Anita Ratnam

How did your transition happen from classical dance to contemporary?
Life happened and my art had to change. Marriage, kids, New York, divorce, near insolvency, evaporating friends. All these impacted me 26 years ago. I could not return to the modes and images of my early years. My art had to keep pace with the ruthless force of the present. Questioning everything was the only way to stay in the discourse of the arts.

Does Indian classical dance still hold an esteemed place in our culture?
The classical has a strong place in history and the social fabric of India. Classical dance structure, however, is slowly losing its vigour. Today, courses are taught even in three months along with other styles for competitions or to join a Bollywood dance troupe. Solo classical dance in its professional avatar is certainly under threat, except for a few prestigious festivals that continue to present and promote the form. The classical alphabet is amazing. A huge amount of choreography has already been created. It is the context of life today that brings the word “relevance” into question.

After all, when you see the body of the dead three-year-old Syrian refugee baby lying face down on the shore, can you really pretend that such darkness does not exist in the world around us? Can we endlessly hope to dream of blue clouds and chirping parrots, braiding jasmine garlands and singing songs of love?

In many of your pieces, it’s the woman who is a powerful protagonist. Why?
My geography is my history, I am a Tamil, South Indian, Vaishnavite, Indian, Asian, global woman. It is my body that is moving and responding to the choreography and imagination. I am not and do not wish to be a man. So keeping all those givens in minds, I had to create with my own life experience. Who am I? What is my history? My family and the women in my life. I had amazing strong women, each theatrical in themselves. How could I not use those role models as scaffolding to build my artistic ideas? Placing women in the forefront of all my work gave me a chance to also give them voice.

Would you call yourself a feminist?
Absolutely, YES! I don’t want to qualify that by adding BUT. I am a feminist. I believe in the respect, acknowledgment of over half of the world’s humanity and I believe that empowering women will lead to a better society. I do not march in the streets or go on hunger strikes. Neither do I abuse or rant against mythological of historical characters which may have given me a higher profile. I believe that there are aspects of my history and life that are positive and it is up to me to select and discard as I wish. A feminist with a sense of vigilant responsibility. Via the arts and humanities.

Are women in India treated on par with men?
We are intelligent, assertive and immensely capable. But we are certainly NOT treated as a man’s equal in our country. Men are not going to give way to women. They have been too used to having their way for centuries. We have to fight, kick, scream and take our power and place. It is ours to take or to give away.

I always say that women pride themselves on being Banyan trees – large, wide, shade giving, putting down too many roots. It saps us of core energy and focus. Men are like Asoka trees – growing tall and straight and not worried about any shade except to climb higher and higher. Women have to be less Banyan and more Asoka.