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PUDUCHERRY: For Malaysian classical dancer Ramli Ibrahim, innovation isn’t about a break from the past. Instead it’s all about timelessness. “I see modernity as a continuum of tradition and there are different kinds of maternities, not just the Western version,” he said. Ibrahim should know. A Sangeet Natak Akademi Award winner, he and his dance laboratory Sutra have been at the forefront of an incredible journey tracing what he calls the “cultural footprint of greater India”. A trained Bharatanatyam dancer and a feted Odissi exponent, Ibrahim, by his own admission, represents “an interactive cultural legacy” that stretches all the way from his native Malaysia to his adopted cities Puducherry/Chennai and Bhubaneshwar. That’s probably why he’s back in Puducherry for the launch of his second book – ‘Quintessential Sutra’ which documents his and his academy’s journey from 2005 to date. “The beauty of Puducherry is the opportunity of building relationships with people that it offers,” he said. “Also Puducherry and Chennai are so near Malaysia – in geographical and creative terms- that national boundaries seem truly manmade.” Chennai, he said, is also the city of his Bharatanatyam guru and he and his team have performed many times in both cities. That’s why the book debuts in Puducherry but Ibrahim plans a later roll out in Delhi and Bhubaneshwar as well.
Ibrahim and by extension Sutra’s artistic journey and Ramli’s lifelong dedication to Indian dance forms has been a “reaffirmation of certain beliefs” which suddenly seem under attack in his native country. “I am a Muslim performing an Indian classical dance form – imagine what that would mean to a country that’s suddenly talking about the Hudood?” he said. “It makes me a little bit uncomfortable because I am an artist. Both extreme right and extreme left are outside my purview.” Ibrahim and his Sutra team have performed in some of the most iconic heritage sites across the world including Angkor Vat in Cambodia and Mukeshwar Temple in Odisha and Hampi in Karnataka. “It’s an effort to keep on exploring the restatement of things that are timeless,” he said. The photographs for the book are by Chennai-based senior photographer A Prathap, who works with The Times of India.