Grant Period: Over one year
Avanthi Meduri is a Bharata Natyam dancer and choreographer. She is a scholar who raises significant questions regarding the place of Bharata Natyam as danced by a modern-day woman.
The Koothu-p-pattarai Trust has been a seminal force in the growth of a contemporary theatre consciousness in Tamil Nadu. In the last two decades, the group has mounted 33 productions and conducted an equal number of workshops.
In her doctoral dissertation, performance scholar Avanthi Meduri recounts the sutured history of the devadasi and her dance. She argues that the practice of south Indian temple dancers has been modernised and hybridised since the 19th century, and written over by the discourses of colonialism, Orientalism, Indian nationalism and internationalism. She examines what was lost, preserved and concealed when this local practice – known as sadir or dasi attam – was renamed and reconfigured as Bharatanatyam, the national dance of India.
With this planning grant, Dr Avanthi, who is also a trained Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer, will work for three months with Koothu-p-pattarai (KPP), a theatre group in Chennai, to visualise scattered segments of a production based on her account of the social, political and cultural history of Bharatanatyam. In the process, the collaborators hope to develop a clear framework and shared vision for the proposed production.
According to Dr. Avanthi, this dance-theatre project will be “innovative in that it juxtaposes historical documents with the spoken word; dance movements with theatrical visualisations; English text with vernacular vocalisations, music and dance gesture; political history with cultural performance.” The production “will draw upon many languages and means of expression in order to visualise the phenomenon of syncretism and hybridisation that had begun to take shape in the cultural practices of south India with the colonial annexation of the Tanjore kingdom.”
Dr. Avanthi sees the project as having an enduring value because it could stand in for an absence, namely, the lack of a historical document in the performing arts that details the impact of colonialism and nationalism on cultural practices such as sadir.