Padmini Chettur

Published in ‘Zwischenräume’ – Goethe Institut Berlin

After two decades of working in the dance world, I can safely say that dance eludes me more and more. I am perpetually oscillating between positive feelings of hope and conviction, negative ones of hopelessness and despair. The irony being that dance is not the actual problem. The ‘problem’ is my finding myself more deeply embroiled than ever in the post-colonial/neo-imperialist politics of our supposed ‘free’ and globalized world. From within the not always subtle pressures and implications that by now have become a constant companion in the contract between India and the ‘west’, one is constantly asking the question – how do I retain artistic independence and autonomy? What is my relationship to the past? A past of tradition, re-invented tradition and even imagined tradition. What is this ‘Indianness’ that I represent? Is there a space for my work beyond this role of National representation?

If one traces back a little, and understand the origins and trajectory of contemporary dance in India, one sees that its roots are in a resistance to the imperialist influence, as well as a need for ‘nation building’. The most important choreographers and theater directors of the 80’s and 90’s built their aesthetic and formal practice on the ‘traditions’ of India, while several also consciously rejected the need for western pedagogic interventions. The discourse of my own artistic practice begins here, during a decade of work with Chandralekha. The reading of my work perhaps requires an understanding of this ‘local’ discourse. My preoccupation with a certain formalism, the attraction to a particular precision, the fact that my dancers don’t express through their faces, that they don’t jump, that they don’t strive to entertain, all stems out of certain responses to a contextual dance environment. My form and choreographic strategies address gender concerns in India, at the same time the larger discourse on‘body’ itself can certainly cross geographic borders. My work however cannot be absorbed into the dominant western discourse. Neither will it pander to the orientalist fantasy of Danse Indienne still alarmingly alive in countries like France. There is a need for new languages and inquiries. Our cultural productivity reflects the complexity of our histories that are interconnected, and the genuine ‘reader’ of this work cannot ignore this history.

I am yet to meet this European ‘reader’ – be it writer or curator who meets me halfway.

A meeting that is about dialogue, not power. I am yet to be in a forum, where economic disparities and dichotomous environments are less important than real encounter. An encounter that perhaps mystifies and confuses. One that questions perception of identity and notions of beauty. One that acknowledges different bodies, different ‘passing’s of time. And above all can accept that is no copy-write on notions of ‘contemporarity’.

To actually change, the non-western world must begin to articulate clearly its own discourse and create networks outside the Eurocentric one. Only then can we start to construct an environment beyond morbid curiosity and opportunism. An environment without resentment. It is time to replace the multi-nationals of art and in stead look for what globalization could actually mean.