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Reviewed by:
  • Traversing Tradition: Celebrating Dance in India ed. by Urmimala Sarkar Munsi and Stephanie Burridge
  • Jashodhara Sen
TRAVERSING TRADITION: CELEBRATING DANCE IN INDIA. Edited by Urmimala Sarkar Munsi and Stephanie Burridge. New York: Routledge, 2016. 319 pp. Paperback, $55.95.

The anthology Traversing Tradition: Celebrating Dance in India is an ambitious and expansive project; spending time with this collection of insightful essays reveals the global appeal and scope of this anthology. This volume provides a comprehensive overview of the diversity of dance in Asia-Pacific regions while interweaving the historiography of dance and the development of contemporary dance practices in India. This anthology contains an informative forward followed by a preface and twelve chapters, including case studies, historical, and theoretical analysis of dance techniques prevalent in Asia-Pacific.

The introduction of this book re-presents the diversities and polarities in contemporary perceptions of dance. The authors also introduce an outline of the chapters. Ratan Thiyam, the author of the [End Page 524] forward, asserts "[d]ance is the first expression of joy of a human being, his/her emergence and acclimatization to a new space. It also makes a journey to establish a bridge of communication with the spiritual world, portraying self, society, and the philosophy of life" (p. xi). Tracing the transition of dance techniques throughout the years and linking them with Thiyam's forward, Burridge reveals the power of dance as a complex and evolutionary process throughout the text, concluding that the traditional and contemporary dance forms coexist despite their polarities.

The first chapter, "Dance Scholarship and its Future: The Indian Context," combines two articles by Kapila Vatsyayan, separated into two sub categories: "Dance Scholarship in India" and "Future of Dance Scholarship." The chapter illuminates the historic textual documentation of dance traditions in India. The author begins with a self-reflective question asking, "Where should I begin in speaking about dance 'beyond performance' and the state of current scholarship?" (p. 1) and continues exploring the options for analyzing current scholarship using anthropological, archeological, and performative approaches. By delving into the historical and theoretical framework of dance, the author collates the larger and stronger connection between theory and the performance. Regarding the future of dance scholarship, Vatsyayan describes the limitations faced by the researchers—particularly the inability to perform authentic textual analysis of primary materials on dance from India and other countries of Asia. The author proposes that the future of dance scholarship lies in training in one or more Indian classical languages. Vatsyayan's research critically investigates the evolution and the possibilities of dance scholarship in India.

The next chapter by Sunil Kothari explores the dance academy Kalakshetra and the contribution of the founding member renowned Bharatanatyam dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale. In this case study Kothari uses a historical lens to examine the colonial to postcolonial transition of dance and dance vocabularies in India and its global contribution. Kothari discusses Rukmini Devi's versatility as an artist and a teacher by emphasizing Devi's holistic approach in combining practice with theory and her ability to teach diverse dance forms.

Chapters Three and Four, "Questions for the Modern Dance Teacher" and "Writing Out Otherness" by Ranjita Karlekar and Uttara Asha Coorlawala represent and negotiate identities in contemporary dance as dance educator and researcher/performer. Karlekar documents a pedagogical exploration of the value of dance in secondary education and shares her experiences as a dance educator working with various age groups in India and in the United States and with differently-abled bodies. The closing of this chapter discusses a detailed [End Page 525] account of modern dance training methodology through technique, improvisation, choreography, and theory; Karlekar presents multiple accounts of students' success stories and perspectives.

Coorlawala's cross-cultural investigation delves into the dynamics of identity politics in the contemporary dance practitioners as well as the readers/observers. The article discourses on the idea of representation through the mediums of writing and performance in traversing spaces such as the cultural, personal, theoretical, and performative. The author articulates the dilemma of a researcher and performer in producing embodied yet critical discourses while complicating the frameworks of representation, self-representation, and displaced identities/ethnicities both internally and externally. This provocative...


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pp. 524-528
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