Aishika Chakraborty, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Calcutta
Gendering performance: The contemporary intervention in Indian dance
Can dance, a celebratory art of the female body furnish a discursive site for sexual and gender politics? What happens when a dancer disrupt the dominant regimes of representing gender, stressing her own lived experiences? Taking the dancer’s body as an object of discourse this paper seeks to trace the journey of the contemporary dance movement in India that spells out a new body politics beyond culturally constituted bodily identities as scripted in the hegemonic, patriarchal, brahminic cultural tradition. Revolving round the twin axes of gender and sexuality, my focus is on the ways the new dance transgresses, politically and aesthetically, the iconic classical, signaling a feminist intervention in the dance map.
Browsing over three momentous stylistic breakthroughs in the contemporary dance map of India, my starting point is the cultural movement initiated by Rabindranath Tagore who triggered off a new discourse on performance, reversing the classical tradition, ensconced in religious mysticism, defended by the Natyashastra and frozen in the sacral temple tradition. Tagore’s conceptualization of the ‘hybrid’, ‘eclectic’ and ‘impure’ cultural texts, I will argue, facilitated a new identity formation for women dancers, moving towards a new future of performance.
In a parallel movement, Uday Shankar popularized the Indian modern reinforcing, nonetheless, the Western romanticization of the ‘Orient’. Opening up a wider performative space for respectable women he left unaltered their stereotyped characterizations. The nationwide spread of IPTA cultural movement that went deeper and wider unquestionably drew larger number of women into public participation. How did these various stages in the modern dance alter/refashion the gendered identity of the performer?
How far has the contemporary movement challenged the relationship of power, domination and varying degrees of cultural hegemony encoded in Indian dance tradition? To seek answers I will turn to the contemporary explorations by Manjusri Chaki-Sircar and Ranjabati Sircar who innovated a new dance language, called Navanritya, blurring the binary between ‘traditional’ / ‘modern’ or ‘Indian’ / ‘Western’. Primarily a rejection of the gendered tradition, the new dance signaled a paradigm shift in Indian dance, embracing the hybrid and the post-colonial. Exuding a non-patriarchal expression through dance, it returned the female ‘body’ to her ‘self’, inscribing a woman’s language.