Dance Histories, Ecologies and Identities

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSCC2DP1034

emester and Year Offered: Winter 2019

Course Coordinator and Team: Ranjana Dave

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: None

Course Objectives/Description:

The course attempts to map the field of dance history in India and to approach the historical study of Indian dance critically. As a vital component of dance studies, dance history entails not the study of uncontested facts embodied in neat boxes of knowledge or histories of forms organized into neat periods, discrete and self-contained in the specificity of their characteristics. Rather, much like the contestations within the discipline of history itself- where the invention and reception of acts and events of the past have been challenged by critical and cultural theories- the study of dance histories must entail practice conventions and forms that do not fit comfortably into categories of the ‘classical’, ‘folk’, ‘traditional’, ‘contemporary’ etc. They occupy social, aesthetic and regional spaces that are contested and complex and therefore remain under-recorded and under studied. Unpacking available dance histories to explore, accommodate these exclusions and fill in gaps and silences of history lead us into examining epistemological and methodological, but equally ideological questions of the nature and status of knowledge itself emanating from movement and choreographic strategies employed by specific practices in specific contexts. Equally, the past studied in dance history must be of productions and processes, of significant events that became defining moments/‘landmarks’ in the history of the form itself, as well as those instances when practice traditions have been challenged, reworked and new traditions have been invented.

Modern dance movement(s) in the Euro-American world beginning in the last decade of the 19th century viewed critically the artistic and aesthetic principles of the classical Ballet, creating new techniques and styles of movement that freed the dancer and her body from the restrictions of costume and movement vocabulary of balletic and interpretive dance traditions. Modern dance in India, seen through the specific conditions of post-colonial pressures must be problematized sufficiently to open multiple readings of dance histories, their grammar and contemporary idioms. To recuperate Indian dance history, therefore, requires mapping a complex ground- of contesting narratives of the formation of the nation state and the conflicts between national and regional identity, of institutionalized desire and historical construction of ‘classical’ and ‘folk’ forms provoking questions of purity, authenticity and ‘Indian-ness’, of the position of the dancer in the new polity, debates on eroticism and spirituality in dance, regional trajectories of dance forms, and the relatively recent discourses on the (female) body in dance, gender identities, of practice and challenges of identity and viewership in dance practices of the Indian diaspora- all positing a multitude of practices that are at once both diverse and specific. There are expressions born out of a resistance to, and others that lay claim to the category of the ‘classical’, there are forms that come out of strong political and social activism, there are expressions that assert sexual identity, there are languages of dance that question the very notion of performance itself and many more. The course aims to revisit key moments in Indian dance practice that navigate these issues, problematize and situate them amidst critical discourses of modernity using theoretical paradigms such as postcolonialism, Marxism, feminism and queer theory.

The course entails reading key theoretical texts, critically reviewing available commentaries and scholarly essays on dance history, traditions and practices, viewing dance performances live/on video/film. Important dance scholars and practitioners will be invited to instruct specific modules of the course that pertain to their own scholarly and artistic specialisms.

Course Outcomes:

  • Broadened student knowledge and understanding of dance and the body in relation to the wider cultural and historical context
  • Development of research skills in order to examine current practices in dance in India and trace their genealogies
  • An ability to engage with existing archives in order to critically investigate dance histories in the subcontinent
  • Attaining an independent, critical approach to engaging with histories, trajectories, identities in the field of dance
  • To understand theoretical ways of thinking about dance and its historical trajectories. Thus, producing disciplinary knowledge of dance studies.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

WEEK 1-2: Dance & Art History

Introduction to the nature of historical study in relation to dance within the larger field of art history

WEEKS 3-6: Forms, Practitioners and Patronage

Study of the historical development of particular forms of Indian dance through the contributions made by key practitioners in the 20th century. Lectures on the history of dance in India as examined through the rise and fall of institutions, changing patronage and legal and policy frameworks for dance in India.

WEEKS 7-13: Problematising Identities

Introduction to and problematisation of national and regional identities in dance in India. Examination of current issues in dance (eg. gender, sexuality, caste, diaspora, class etc.)

Assessment Details with weights:

The objective of the assessment is to evaluate the level to which the student has developed a vocabulary to engage with dance practice. Attending classes regularly is vital and any absence may affect the grades.

  • Participation in classroom tasks and discussions (30%)
  • Submission of mid-term assignment (30%)
  • Submission of end-term written and/or portfolio documents (40%)

Reading List:

  • Vatsyayan, Kapila. The square and the circle of the Indian arts. Abhinav Publications, 1997.
  • Vatsyayan, Kapila. Classical Indian dance in literature and the arts. New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi, 1968.
  • Vatsyayan, Ms Kapila. Dance in Indian painting. Abhinav Publications, 2014.
  • Naman Ahuja: Exhibition 'Body in Indian Art'
  • Schwartz, Susan L. Rasa: Performing the divine in India. Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • Soneji, Davesh. Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India. University of Chicago Press, 2011.
  • Srinivasan, Amrit. "Reform and revival: The devadasi and her dance." Economic and Political Weekly (1985): 1869-1876.
  • Samson, Leela. Rukmini Devi: A life. Penguin Books India, 2010.
  • Sarkar Munsi, Urmimala. "Boundaries and Beyond: Problems of Nomenclature in Indian Dance History." Dance: Transcending Borders (2008): 79-98.
  • Erdman, Joan. "Dance Discourses: Rethinking the History of the ‘Oriental Dance.’."Moving words: Rewriting dance (1996): 288-305.
  • Cherian, Anita Elizabeth. Fashioning a National Theatre: Institutions and Cultural Policy in Post-independence India. Diss. Ph. D. thesis submitted to NYU, 2005.
  • Erdman, Joan Landy, ed. Arts Patronage in India: Methods, Motives, and Markets. South Asia Books, 1992.
  • Chatterjea, Ananya. "In Search of a Secular in Contemporary Indian Dance: A Continuing Journey." Dance research journal 36.02 (2004): 102-116.
  • Chandralekha. "Militant Origins of Indian Dance." Social Scientist (1980): 80-85.
  • Ram, Kalpana. "Listening to the Call of Dance: Re‐thinking Authenticity and ‘Essentialism’." The Australian journal of anthropology 11.2 (2000): 358-364.
  • O'Shea, Janet. "" Traditional" Indian Dance and the making of interpretive communities." Asian theatre journal (1998): 45-63.
  • Burt, Ramsay. The male dancer: Bodies, spectacle, sexualities. Routledge, 2007.
  • Fisher, Jennifer, and Anthony Shay. When men dance: choreographing masculinities across borders. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Mitra, Royona. "Living a body myth, performing a body reality: Reclaiming the corporeality and sexuality of the Indian female dancer." Feminist review (2006): 67-83.
  • Grau, Andrée. "Dance, identity, and identification processes in the postcolonial world." (2007).
  • Coorlawala, Uttara Asha. "Writing Out Otherness: Dancing Asian-Indian." Traversing Tradition: Celebrating Dance in India 2 (2012): 57.
  • Jeyasingh, Shobana. "IMAGINARY HOMELANDS: CREATING A NEW DANCE." The Routledge dance studies reader (1998): 46.
  • Dutt, Bishnupriya, and Urmimala Sarkar Munsi. Engendering Performance: Indian Women Performers in Search of an Identity. SAGE Publications India, 2010.