Aastha Gandhi is an independent performance researcher and a performer, currently pursuing studies in Law. She is a practitioner of Guru Surendranath Jena’s style of Odissi dance. She researched on Odissi dance, its historiography, practice and problems within the established parampara, for her M. Phil dissertation (2006–2008), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her subsequent research work has been published in Conference Proceedings of WDA Global Summit, Dance Dialogues: conversations across cultures, artforms and practices, Brisbane (2009) and World Dance Alliance’s Journal of Emerging Dance Scholars (2013). Her current area of research engages with city space and its evolving metaphors of performance, seen in contestation with the established laws.
New dance forums in India have evolved recently, allowing performers to identify conflict areas in performative practice. This development has arisen as a consequence of questioning techniques as exercised in classical dance pedagogy. Aastha Gandhi's research looks into different tools of performance provided by Gati Dance Forum in New Delhi to engage with these techniques through different pedagogical approaches. The learning and unlearning of performance skills constantly challenges the dancer’s perception of audience-performer, body-dance and dance-space relations, vis-à-vis the individual choreography-creating process. The need to challenge the body to go beyond the taught and practised language has consequently developed a distinct performative text, which is visual, verbal and embodied. Deriving from a theoretical idea of Paul Ricoeur’s, the performance text is examined at levels of structural explanation and interpretation, where the different components act as ‘discrete units’ to form an arranged whole and the constituent units acquire a signifying function.
This paper examines the dances and performance spaces created by classical Indian dance patrons and performers, who were moulded into the nationalist mode, premeditated by the bureaucrats and consequently fabricated by the traditional masters, i.e. the gurus. In the absence of an academic institution for dance studies, the non-performers, the bureaucrats and intelligentsia created dance scholars who ultimately furthered the nationalist idea of a glorified dance history. Odissi dance, post independence, reconstructed in its neo-classical avatar, by traditional master-performers, came to be practised mainly by urban women who later became the carriers of the dance form. The paper questions the resultant historiography and engages in a dialogue with the dancers to study the malleability of its boundaries, as established by the gurus and transmitted thence.