- Contemporary Indian Dance: New Creative Choreography in India and the Diaspora by Ketu H. Katrak
This text opens with some of the usual topics in Indian dance literature: the rise of bharatanatyam from the devadasi (courtesan dancer) system in South India and the innovations of Uday Shankar and Ram Gopal in popularizing the art of modern Indian dancing internationally. The development of Kathak, in which Madame Menaka played a role separating the art from the traditional nautch performance, is also detailed. Coverage is clear, but where the text does its most useful work is in discussing the new developments since the 1970s, showing how a tradition versus modernization debate that was important in the work of artists like Chandralekha and peers in India has progressed in India and the diaspora. The divide of modern dance (pioneered by Uday Shankar and Ram Gopal and carried forward from the late 1960s by figures like Astad Deboo) and traditional or “classical” dance has diminished since the 1980s as a new generation in India and abroad combines innovative choreography and new themes with aspects of traditional training. These artists also move around the globe and circulate back to India. The first chapters discuss the anti-devadasi and nautch history, detail important figures of the twentieth century, including Uday Shankar, Chandralekha, Astad Deboo, and UK-based Shobana Jeyasingh, who carved out careers as dancers that were not confined to a single Indian genre and who had transnational careers as performers often collaborating with or fusing with movements in international modern dance.
The next section of the book is short discussions of a wide range of innovators both in India and internationally, including those in Kuala Lumpur, Canada, the United States, and Britain. The emphasis is on more avantgarde performers. The book has its limits (for example, the author’s Southern California base and links to UCLA World Arts program means that artists from that area are discussed, while dancers based in Northern California, New York, Boston, or Chicago get less attention). The book ends with the work of Akram Khan.
While one can, of course, think of important figures whose work is not detailed, this is a strong work telling the varied stories of a number of important dancers moving Indian performance forward around the globe. The ambition of the book is its global reach, but with such a canvas it cannot go as deeply into all the important dancers discussed. It is however a useful survey and a contribution to the increasing scholarship on Indian dance in the contemporary period. [End Page 686]