Indian contemporary dance is a field, genre, and strategic term, in which practitioners design and stage choreographies that are high art, avant-garde, experimental, abstract, and a-formal. Many practitioners are trained in Indian classical dance forms, and innovate from these by drawing on an amalgam of abstract movement vocabulary to produce work that is socially and politically engaged. Choreographers emphasize essentially “Indian” experiences of inhabiting modernity and interacting with the world. This dissertation makes three main arguments: that bodies move—on, off, and between the dance floor; practitioners must demonstrate multiple mobilities to remain active and working; and these mobilities are rendered clearest in dialogue with each other, to form a larger politics of mobility in Indian contemporary dance. I present five mobilities in the five chapters that construct this dissertation. In Chapter 1, I present an analogy and lineage for studying mobility in Indian contemporary dance, through a photograph album of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century courtesans, as historically immobile practitioners of modern classical dance. Chapter 2 explores the codes for becoming contemporary on the dance floor, in which I investigate the kinesthetic mobility of the dancing body. In Chapter 3, I discuss how dancers move through systems of patronage, and corporate patronage in particular. In the fourth chapter, I move off the dance floor, to study how dancers collaborate with other creative professionals to produce work. The last chapter discusses the mobilities of performers in transnational contexts, which include the mobilization of “Indian contemporary” among transnationally dispersed bodies. It is in this context that I also parse between politically charged interpretations of the terms “Indian” and “South Asian.” I place these case studies of embodied, social, economic, and political mobilities in parallel, as conflicting realities that collide, co-exist, and co-negotiate. My methods hail from the disciplines of ethnomusicology, dance studies, performance studies, and South Asian studies, and are premised in ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted mostly in Bangalore among dancers, musicians, designers, artists, curators, and arts organizers. I draw heavily from my own experience as a transnational Indian and kathak dancer, from which I construct this project as a scholar-practitioner. I examine my own mobilities in relation to the multiple ways other bodies move in processes of navigating Indian contemporary dance.




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