New Dance for New Audiences: The Global Flows of Bharatanatyam

Anita Ratnam (Chennai, India) Neelam (2006)Today Bharatanatyam circulates in ever-expanding directions. The form has moved well beyond its twentieth-century epicenter, the city of Chennai (formerly Madras), and its pulse can be felt in every major urban centre around the world. Post-colonial and hybrid diasporic identities have given new impetus to the form. In North America, elements of Bharatanatyam dance have interfaced with contemporary dance and new kinetic vocabularies have been created by prominent second and third generation artists of Indian origin. Professional Bharatanatyam training and performance has also extended to include practitioners of non-South Asian origins, and this too has moved the dance in highly innovative directions. The form has also been used to address social issues such as displacement and violence, and has been thoroughly institutionalized and professionalized, especially in the UK, Canada, and the United States.

Classroom Activities

  • Watch: The inDANCE Company’s Inverse (video above). What movement qualities/shapes do you recognize from other Bharatanatyam choreographiesimage_17? What other movement practices do you see reflected in the piece?
  • Research: A major figure in Indian contemporary dance (ex: Chadralekha, Shobana Jeyasingh, Akram Khan, Hari Krishnan, Anita Ratnam, Mallika Sarabhai).
  • Write:  Situate your chosen research subject in terms of their own self-representation, and in terms of the debates around their work. How do these artists employ aesthetic strategies that are affected by their location as feminist artists, diasporic artists, post-modern artists, etc?
  • Expand: Think about how we can theorize the connections between “tradition” and “innovation.” How do we think about the idea of “tradition” given Bharatanatyam’s hybrid modernity, and how do we determine the limits of this “tradition” – that is, when does a “reconstructed” artform begin and cease to become “traditional”? How do debates around contemporary Indian dance (Chadralekha, Shobana Jeyasingh, Akram Khan, Hari Krishnan, Anita Ratnam, Mallika Sarabhai, etc) refract some of the anxieties around the ideas of “tradition” and “innovation”?
  • Read: The articles below are suggested supplemental reading.

O’Shea, Janet. “Tradition and the Individual Dancer.” In At Home in the World: Bharata Natyam on the Global Stage. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Chatterjea, Ananya. “Chandralekha: Negotiating the Female Body and Movement in Cultural/Political Signification.” In Moving History/Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader, ed. Ann Dils and Anna Cooper Albright. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Grau, Andrée. 2007. “Political Activism and South Asian Dance: The Case of Mallika Sarabhai.”South Asia Research 27 (1): 43-55

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