In 1972, filmmaker Kumar Shahani approached renegade danseuse Chandralekha and asked her to choreograph a piece for the climactic performance in his film Maya Darpan, a hallmark of the Indian Parallel Movement. For the piece, Shahani and Chandralekha travelled to dance schools across the country. Shahani suspended the completion of his film for eight months looking for dancers who could rightly portray the transformation in the protagonists’ consciousness that reflects in the body. They eventually found 22 Chhau dancers who were rickshaw pullers by day and practised dance in the evening. Sadanand Menon’s closing anecdote at the first panel discussion in the Abhyas Lecture Series, illustrates the glory and fall of dance in the country.
Watch What Else is Making News
The discussion brought together philosophy scholars and thinkers — Menon, Sundar Sarukkai and Meera Nanda — at the India International Centre (IIC), Delhi, on Wednesday in a discussion titled “Body at the Centre”. Organiser and dancer Navtej Johar says, “I’ve been unhappy and frustrated about the way both dance and yoga are being viewed and taught. I feel that they are pushing ideas upon the body and not allowing it the autonomy and power that it actually has. Nationalism has always been woven into the body with dance and now with yoga too, and that’s what prompted me. We have to start talking about the histories of falsification, and find new ways of bringing the body back to the centre.”
History has manipulated yoga and dance to suit its nationalist narrative, and like Menon rues, “Dance can no longer speak back to society, so what use is it? The historic neutralisation of the body is robbing the dancer’s body of any radical potential. The body of the dancer has become the body of the nation, therefore it can never rebel.” The next Abhyas Lecture Series will be the launch of Roots of Yoga by James Mallinson on January 17 at IIC.