Bharatanatyam and Butoh:
An Emerging Gendered Conversation through Site-Specific Dance in Chennai and Singapore

Nirmala Seshadri

Published in "The Moving Space: Women in Dance" (2018), Primus Publishers, New Delhi. Book Editors: Dr. Urmimala Sarkar Munsi and Dr. Aishika Chakraborthy


This practice-led research chapter engages with history, performance aesthetics, and presentation as it outlines the process by which a structured and codified form such as Bharatanatyam (the practice and performance of which is largely indoor and proscenium- based) was drawn into an outdoor space of improvisation and sensorial perception through Butoh, sculpture, poetry, music, and site-specificity. Two choreographic works serve as key points of reference—the site-specific works titled Crossroads: Journeys and Transformations through Life and Dance (2003–8) (hereafter, Crossroads) and I Carry Your Heart (2015). The works were choreographed and premiered in Chennai and Singapore respectively. Through the description of a creative process that opened up into a space of collaboration and cultural hybridization, this chapter explores how the choreographic process that interweaves sites and the dance forms (Bharatanatyam and Butoh) challenges the traditional ideas of the gendered body and provides the ground for the emergence of new contemporary expression in the Singapore milieu.

In this chapter, I adopt the analytical lens of body as I examine the intercultural, interdisciplinary, and place/space dialogue that facilitated a shift from an embodied habitus into a fluid and hybridized concept of identity. Drawing on auto-ethnographic as well as ethnographic perspectives, I demonstrate that this intersecting space of Bharatanatyam, Butoh, and site-specificity offers scope for questioning the conventional notions of the body that are embedded in a classical dance form such as Bharatanatyam, as well as in ‘erasing cultural differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’’ to create hybrid spaces that hold immense possibilities for autonomy, re-contextualization and change with respect to the present-day female Bharatanatyam dancer.


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