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  • The Natyasastra and the Body in Performance: Essays on Indian Theories of Dance and Drama ed. by Sreenath Nair
  • Janaki Sasidharan
THE NATYASASTRA AND THE BODY IN PERFORMANCE: ESSAYS ON INDIAN THEORIES OF DANCE AND DRAMA. Edited by Sreenath Nair. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2015. 260 pp. Cloth, ebook, $49.95.

This book edited by Sreenath Nair engages a broad academic readership, contouring substantial studies on Natyasastra from multiple perspectives of Indian performance studies—epistemological, aesthetic, scientific, religious, ethnological, and practical. The introduction by the editor and fourteen further essays by a mixture of leading scholars deliberately foster its readers to renew their scholarly understanding of the most comprehensive treatise on drama: the Natyasastra. This winning combination of essays with a highly elevated sense of the contemporary stand on performance studies results in not merely a book but an asset to a wide range of students, academics, scholars, and practitioners of dance and drama, not limited to Indian and intercultural theatre, but also incorporating contemporary dance, theatre, and performance studies. As Bryski observes in his foreword, “This volume offers valuable guidance in our effort to fathom the depths” (p. 2) of the art of theatre, and he hopes that this book brings some meaningful changes in the ways we think about theatre and practice it today.

This book fundamentally addresses some questions Nair outlines in his introduction:

What is Indian performance studies? How does the Natyasastra, an ancient Indian text on theatre arts, inform and explain structural principles and functional modalities of performance as a spatiotemporal event? How do we understand the performance discourse of the Natyasastra through the range of critical paradigms and theoretical concepts presented in the text and translate them into contemporary scholarship? Is the Natyasastra still a significant source of knowledge in understanding the multiple and complex mechanisms of the body in performance? Do the theoretical insights that the Natyasastra offers to understand performance practice have relevance or usefulness in enhancing and/or contemplating our understanding of current developments in theatre and performance studies, and, if so to what degree and level?

(p. 3) [End Page 692]

These questions are significant in two ways. First, they attempt to measure the contemporaneity of an old treatise and determine its usefulness to a scholar and practitioner of current times, especially within the shifting paradigms of contemporary performance research and practice. Second, and more important, these questions potentially posit a major intervention into the current discourse of performance studies and initiate a new genre called Indian performance studies, inspired and shaped by the Natyasastra. Indian performance studies, while branching out from the discipline of performance studies, seems to be a key intervention to its discursive terrain, but the conceptual framework underpinning Indian performance studies is based on the principles of the Natyasastra—rasa theory, for instance—that deliberated a body-centered, nontextual, postdramatic theatre practice more than two thousand years ago. This is perhaps the first book that attempts to reassess the contemporary significance of the Natyasastra in this particular manner, further confirming its overarching ambition. Keeping the body as the center of investigation, the rich new set of essays presented in this book enable a deeper understanding of the body and its performance dynamics.

The first section, “Epistemology,” subsumes the reader into the scholarly acumen of Kapila Vatsyayan and Vashishtha Jha, who, through their essays, attempt to unlock the performance experience, valorizing an epistemological approach. The interesting discourse and the finest analysis by Vatsyayan about the intertwined nature of the “invisible” and “visible” properties of artistic composition, expression, and communication in theatre delineate the most convincing and vibrant debates in the Natyasastra. As she notes, “The Natyasastra, like other texts in several disciplines, has implicit and explicit layers. Some insight can be gained by penetrating through the language of ‘myth,’ ‘legend’ and the anecdotes in which the text is couched. There is as it were a ‘code’ of discourse, which is expected to be evident and illuminating to the initiated and conversant. On the surface, it is engaging to the general or ‘lay’ reader, but it is not fully comprehensible without the implicit layer of the text” (p. 19). This essay encapsulates the bodily discourse...