'I didn't choose dance, dance chose me.'

Dr. Anita Ratnam is a contemporary dancer, choreographer, arts presenter, cultural activist, and art entrepreneur from India. She has a unique style that blends classical and contemporary dance forms, and her contributions to the dance scene in India have been recognized both nationally and internationally. Anita has founded the Arangham Trust, a cultural foundation that seeks to explore, enrich and promote the performing and visual arts of India, and has developed the dance portal and revived the theatrical ritual form Kaisiki Natakam, contributing to the continuation of the form. She has won several awards and honours for her work, including the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2018.

anita ratnam performing artist

Dr. Anita Ratnam's journey as a performer, choreographer, arts presenter and arts entrepreneur has been marked by her passion for exploring different dance forms and her dedication to promoting dance in India. Her unique style, which blends classical and contemporary forms, has had a significant impact on the dance scene in India, and her contributions have been recognised both nationally and internationally. Today, Anita's work reflects her vision of bridging the past with the present, tradition with modernity, and East with West.

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LEGACY comes from a family with a 110-year-old business legacy. For Anita, democratising dance networks by setting up and developing the dance portal and the revival of the theatrical ritual form Kaisiki Natakam, are what she considers her own legacy. Establishing the two, one a monolithic repository of dance resources and the other, revitalising Kaisiki Natakam, once a haemorrhaging art form; has taken Anita on a journey of creative conception and self-discovery.
DANCE Before she began defining her own niche as a contemporary dancer, Anita started learning dance with her mother's friend Raji Narayan at the young age of three. Her mother's unfulfilled dreams of becoming a dancer and Anita's own urge to express herself were the reasons she was introduced to dance. After 10 years of rigorous training, Raji Narayan had to move to Bombay for medical reasons, and Anita then continued her training under Adyar K Lakshman, a Kalakshetra disciple, further strengthening her dance vocabulary with a post graduate diploma at Kalakshetra, Chennai (1974 - 1976), under S Sarada and Sarada Hoffman. She has also been trained in the Kerala dance-theatre traditions of Mohiniyattam under Guru Chinna Ammu Ammal and Kathakali under Guru Balasubramaniam Warier (1968 - 1978).
THEATRE & TELEVISION After a Master's in Theatre and Television from the University of New Orleans, USA (1977 - 1979), Anita enjoyed a successful ten-year tenure from 1981-1990 as an award-winning television producer in New York. Besides securing Emmy (1987) and Ace (1986) award nominations for her media work in the USA, she has even been honoured as "Outstanding TV Ambassador" (1988) for enhancing American awareness of India. The weekly TV show saw Anita wearing many hats as writer, producer, reporter, researcher and anchor, which gave her a sense of responsibility towards the words and images being broadcast. It also helped her develop the skills that she uses today to produce various series, festivals and programmes.

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anita ratnam narthika

ARANGHAM In 1990, Anita returned from New York to India with her two children after ending her marriage and briefly joined a Bombay-based television company called Plus Channel as the South-Indian bureau chief, soon she felt the urge to return to dance after a long hiatus. In 1992, she founded the Arangham Trust, a cultural foundation that seeks to explore, enrich and promote the performing and visual arts of India and is consistently relooking at the rich tapestry of Indian creativity with a contemporary lens. In 1993, Anita started creating small choreographies and founded Arangham Dance Theatre, which gave her an outlet to bring her ideas and experiences to the theatre, interpreting traditional Indian stories differently.
Along with ADT Anita began to conceptualise full-length classical and contemporary dance theatre productions, cross-cultural experimentations and exclusive programmes for corporates, NGOs as well as for young audiences. Rooted in tradition, her productions use classical, contemporary, folk motifs and movements, masks, veils and simple props, to showcase the variety and depth of Indian dance. Anita's journey as a dancer and choreographer has been marked by many achievements. She has performed extensively in India and abroad and has won several awards and honours for her work, including the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2018. She has also been recognised by several international organisations for her work in promoting cultural exchange and understanding.
NARTHAKI Anita's contributions to the world of dance go beyond her own performances and choreography into the realm of cultural activism. She has also played a pivotal role in developing the e-zine reviving the once forgotten theatrical tradition Kaisiki Natakam. Narthaki has become an essential resource for dancers, scholars, and dance enthusiasts across the globe. During her Ph.D. in Women's Studies from University of Madras in Chennai, she developed her conviction to revitalise Kaisiki Natakam, once haemorrhaging art form, which led her to bring it back into traditional practice, contributing to the continuation of the form.

Dr. Anita Ratnam is often asked, which of her hats - performer, choreographer, producer, mentor, poet, writer - she is most comfortable wearing. With a background that travels across geographies and a repertoire that journeys through disciplinary boundaries, the influences and inspirations that inform Anita's work, reflect her experience and the wide range of activities that she is involved in. Some of the people that have inspired her have had a profound effect on her, some have shaped her life and the manner in which her works have materialised, others act as a reference point and are reminders of the heights that women have scaled the world over.

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Kumari Kamala also known as Kamala Lakshman, a dance and cinema icon in the 40s and 50's, was Anita's first inspiration and the reason her mother propelled her and her sister into dance. Among other inspiring figures are Indian classical dance artiste Yamini Krishnamurthy, dancer, teacher, and choreographer of modern dance Martha Graham, whose pedagogical approach to physical training has been especially inspiring, and also the avant-garde performance artist Meredith Monk. Other inspirations include the work of women who dared, such as the painters Amrita Sher-Gil and Frida Kahlo, Captain Lakshmi Sehgal, a freedom fighter in the Indian National Army and Mrinalini Sarabhai, Indian classical dancer, choreographer, pedagog and founder of the Darpana Academy of performing Arts, who inspired Anita to write about dance and introduced her to the art of thinking and reflecting on dance.
The inspiration that comes closest to her heart and work today, is the 9th-century mystic poet from Tamil Nadu who was elevated to goddess status mere centuries after her birth. Andal was the only woman among the Alvars, the bhakti poet-saints of South India, known for her bold and sensual poems, most of which she wrote during her teens. Andal has been a shadow in Anita's life since she was 6 years old, her poems have been part of a young Anita's classical dance repertoire. More recently, Andal frequents Anita's working process, as a friend and mentor.

Dr. Anita Ratnam, a renowned dancer, has made significant contributions with her unique style. With over five decades of experience, she has created notable choreographies, gaining international recognition. Anita's approach blends traditional and contemporary elements of Indian dance, including her own creation, Neo Bharatam. This style incorporates diverse movement vocabularies such as Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam, and Kalari. Inspired by her personal experiences, Anita's semi-autobiographical style weaves in the stories of influential women in her life, including Andal, a 9th-century Tamil Poet-Saint, and Sita from the Ramayana.

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Anita's style of choreography is characterised by her use of voice, singing, chanting Vedic hymns, drumming, contemporary mythology, and devised movements. She believes that dance is a collaborative art form and sees all the people involved in a performance, including costume, sound, set and light design, as collaborators. Anita has been able to pass on the techniques she has learned to the young dancers who work with her, enabling them to understand the approach of Neo Bharatam.
Dr. Anita Ratnam's acclaimed choreographies include "Gajaanana" (2007), "Daughters of the Ocean” (1999), "Seven Graces” (2005), "MA3KA" (2009), "A Million Sitas" (2010) and "Neelam” (2006). One of her notable choreographic collaborations is "A Map to the Next World" which she co-created with Native American poet Joy Harjo in 1997. The piece explores the themes of identity, displacement, and cultural exchange through dance and poetry. In 1998, Anita collaborated with Pangea World Theatre in Minneapolis to create "Inner World" (2005) a piece that examines the relationship between spirituality and politics and features Anita's signature movement style that assimilates various Indian and Asian forms.
In 1999, Anita collaborated with writer Shobita Punja to create "Daughters of the Ocean" a powerful piece that explores the themes of gender. "Seven Graces," which Anita created with Canada-based Hari Krishnan in 2005, develops Anita's perspectives on Goddess worship and the intersection of Indian feminism. "MA3KA," created in 2009, embodies a renewed feminist ideal through the personas of Hindu goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Meenakshi, who are known for their knowledge, fertility, and strength.
With “Neelam”, Dr. Anita Ratnam looks at the life of Andal and explores her poetry and the challenges she faced as a woman in a society where the landscape of devotion and personal worship were forbidden for women. Andal's searing love and devotion to her Ranganatha/Krishna made the heavens tremor, and she remains an enigma and a beloved icon of the Tamil imagination. Anita's production features her trademark style, with a focus on voice, chanting, and sound, as well as dance, theatre, and movement.
One of Anita's notable works is “Neelam”, where she reimagines the life of Andal, a 9th-century Tamil poet-saint from whom Anita draws much strength and inspiration. The performance explores Andal's poetry and her impact on the Tamil community, her devotion, her personal worship and the challenges she faced as a woman in a society where the landscape of devotion and personal worship were forbidden for women. For Anita, Andal has been her friend, shadow and companion since her arangetram in 1965.
Anita has a special connection to the figure of Andal. She was the only woman among the twelve Alvars who dived deep in the love of god, implying their complete devotion to Narayana/Vishnu. Anita first performed Andal also widely known as Godai or Naachiyar, for her arangetram in 1965 and has since produced or performed in five full-length dance-theatre evenings inspired by the young poet-saint's story. In 2003, she presented "Naachiyar," which featured 12 dancers and six musicians and explored the darker shades of Andal's later years. The presentation was well-received by audiences in several Indian cities, and Anita returned to Andal's story 17 years later in 2019 with a new production titled "Naachiyaar Next” that revisits “Naachiyar” with a new cast.

Mentorship provides the opportunity for knowledge to multiply, but more often than not it is a hit-or-miss phenomenon across various creative disciplines. Mentorship when successful, engages with the needs of the dancer and keeps up with the times. Dancers today are usually busy, independent artists that cannot commit to rigorous daily training. Moreover, a professional dance practitioner today demands much more than physical training, it requires that dancers are proficient in various aspects of dance making, before, behind as well as on stage. To be mentored by Anita means to be supported as an individual in the art-making process, to be challenged and guided; it opens the possibility of a long-term partnership and the opportunity for exchange.

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Anita, mentoring begins from the moment she starts training dancers for a project. She uses the knowledge that she has gathered during her training in theatre, martial arts, classical and contemporary dance and her educational background, all of which inform her approach to contemporary dance training. After an audition, dancers are sensitised to the elements and environment around them and are introduced to a rigorous training routine for weeks before the actual choreographic work begins. They are trained in Yoga, basic martial arts, Tai Chi, moving in silence, moving in water, pushing underwater, and feeling the weight, and volume of water as well as air. Once the choreographic work begins, dancers are introduced to thematically relevant texts that they discuss collectively.
As a mentor Anita is involved with each of her dancers' individual perspectives, hopes and dreams to help them hone their strengths. As an active performer, Anita is very sensitive to how the style that she has developed might influence her dancers. She mentors dancers to develop their own individual styles, based on their specific strengths and knowledge backgrounds. Anita believes that dancers need to display versatility, and skills in multiple aspects of dance-making, not simply physicality, she insists that dancers develop their own politics and encourages them to be articulate about their practice. As an artist that has had 75 to 80 dancers experience her training methodologies, Anita continues to provide the much-needed ecosystem to help today's dancers sustain themselves professionally.

Dr. Anita Ratnam is a renowned performer, choreographer, and cultural commentator with experience as a motivational speaker. Her work as a speaker focusses on a range of topics related to personal development, leadership, and creativity. She has given talks and presentations to a wide range of audiences, including students, professionals, and artists.

anita ratnam motivational speaker

As a motivational speaker Dr. Anita Ratnam focuses on a wide range of themes and subjects. Her talk at TEDx Chennai highlighted the value of creativity and imagination in our lives. While speaking at the International Women's Conference in Hyderabad in 2017, she spoke about the need for women to assert themselves and claim their place in society. In 2015 Anita was invited to speak at Sampoorn Santhe, a festival of arts and culture in Bangalore where she spoke about the importance of collaboration and community-building in the arts. Anita has given talks and presentations at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, one of India's top business schools, on topics related to leadership, creativity, and innovation. Most recently she participated in a panel discussion on the role of the arts in promoting social unity at the World Economic Forum in New Delhi.
One of the key themes in Anita's talks is the importance of creativity and innovation. She draws on her experience as a successful artist and entrepreneur to offer insights and advice on how to build strong, effective teams, overcome obstacles, and develop the qualities and skills needed to become a successful leader. Dr. Anita Ratnam's work as a motivational speaker is informed by her passionate and engaging style, her deep knowledge of Indian culture and mythology, and her ability to inspire and motivate people to reach their full potential.