Tamil Performance Conference 2009
TAMIL CHAIR CONFERENCE
KALAI – PERFORMANCE
University of California, Berkeley
Opening Remarks: Alexander Von Rospott
Chair South and Southeast Asian Studies University of California, Berkeley.
PANEL 1 Saturday, 9.15 – 10.15 am
University of California, Los Angeles
This paper investigates the Festival of India — started in London in 1982 a — as an event that furthered the international circulation of Indian classical dance forms. The Festival of India was created as a response to a perceived deficit in international awareness of cultural life of India. For the event’s organizers and promoters, Indian classical dance forms became a way of offsetting this lack. While drawing on earlier studies of the ‘revival’ of Indian classical dance forms as well as studies of the recontextualizing of Indian classical music, this paper also relies on theories of collection, tourism, and ‘museumization’ to study the effect of festival programming on the representation of difference in an international sphere. As part of this, I question, for instance, how classical dance performance allowed the Festival of India to support India’s status as an emerging, yet non-aligned, power in the cold war context.
University of Chicago
Strategic movements: An exploration of Bharata Natyam performance in Colombo, Sri Lanka
This paper examines two Bharata Natyam choreographies performed in different venues in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2007. Both works evoked themes of war and conflict and were choreographed by a single choreographer/teacher. I suggest that the spaces in which these pieces were performed, and their associated audiences, influenced the choreographer’s approach to war and, correspondingly, multiculturalism and peace. Utilizing ethnography and choreographic analysis, I explore how the sites of the performance, their related histories and current circumstances within a context of war, shape performance on conflict.
Coffee Break: 10.15 10.30 am
PANEL II. 10.30 – 11.30 am
Bharathanatyam – its Americanization or Localization
A study based on the performance, production and training in North America
This paper looks at the changes that Bharatanatyam has undergone as a result of its migration to North America. Throughout the paper, both theoretical and practical aspects of the art form will be touched upon to elucidate the theories presented. At the outset, I will present some background information on the art form. I will follow this up with a brief report on the history of Bharatanatyam’s migration to North America. The methodology will divide the study into three aspects – performance, production and teaching, in order to take a look at the influences of migration on the art form.
In performance and production, after touching briefly upon the history of Bharatanatyam’s migration to America, I will examine if artists in North America have adapted their performance and production, and touch upon works presented by a couple of them to understand how they were influenced in their work due to immigration. Similarly, the changes undergone in the teaching of the art form will be looked into in some detail to provide insight on what incites these changes.
Magic, Drink, and Seduction:
The Untenable Life of the Moti Dance in Tamilnadu
In 1933, when R. S. Shelvankar was working on the first study of Marathi-language records of the Tanjore palace in Modi script, he noted a unique set of injunctions to be followed by court nattuvanars which included the following statement: “Without the permission of the court, pungi [the snake-charmer’s pipe] should not be played, nor should the modi dance be performed.” But what exactly was this moti dance? From the Tanjore palace records, it is clear that the dance was prohibited by the darbar in 1820 during the rule of King Serfoji II (1777-1832), and that it was accompanied by the playing of the snake-charmer’s pipe. In 1867, colonial anthropologist John Shortt published an essay entitled “The Bayadère; or, Dancing Girls of Southern India,” in which he mentions a dance called “modiyedoocooroothoo” (moti etukkiratu), and provides an extensive description of it. While we were conducting fieldwork with the devadasi community in Viralimalai in 2004, Hari Krishnan and I came across a living version of the moti dance performed by R. Muttukkannammal. This was a hybrid piece, performed in two languages, Tamil and Hindi, and almost exactly matched the description provided by Shortt in 1867. The dance offers a play on the Tamil word moti, which refers to a trial of magical power on the one hand, and to the snake-charmer’s pipe (also called makiti or makuti) on the other. In the second half of the piece, the dance switches from Tamil into “Hindustani” mode, and becomes a kind of romantic drinking song in which the heroine is seduced by the hero. Using historical and ethnographic sources, this essay contextualizes the moti dance in terms of larger questions about hybridity, “classicism,” morality, and the question of the tenability of devadasi performance practices in modern South India.
Discussion of Morning Papers: 11.30am – 12.30
Lunch Break: 12.30 – 1.45pm
PANEL III 2 – 3pm
Bowling Green State University, Ohio
Distinctive Tastes: The Aesthetics of Sabha Drama
Ideas about good taste in the city of Chennai, India, are determined in a substantial way by the performances that find their way into the sabhas. These cultural organizations are best known for the December-January music festival, but they operate year-round, sponsoring primarily classical music and dance performances along with some plays, films, and lectures. Each sabha has its own unique identity and calendar of events, but there is an identifiable “sabha aesthetic” for each art. This paper attempts to articulate this aesthetic for a genre I call sabha theater. Additionally, through an analysis of the debates and discourse surrounding the genre, I argue that the oft-dismissed entertainment-centered dramas favored by sabhas offer an essential counterpoint to the classical performances in creating ideas about what qualifies as good taste.
The Divine Drama of Utal and Kutal
The Mattaiyati Utsavam at Alvar Tirunagari
University of California, Davis
On the final day of the Annual Markali Festival at Alvar Tirunagari, Visnu as Adi Nayaka and his consort, Adi Nayaki have a grand quarrel, which is followed by an even grander reconciliation, facilitated by Nammalvar. Divine quarrels and reconciliations are common themes in many temples festivals, both Saiva and Vaisnava. In this paper, I will discuss the purpose of this festival at Alvar Tirunagari, and the role of the Araiyar, a group of hereditary performers in enacting the festival.
Coffee Break 3pm -3.30pm
Panel IV 3:30-4:30 pm
A Little Jingle of the Dancing Bells
Reflections on the Staging of Early Tamil Cinema and Bharatanatyam
In the early 1920s, when cinema as a colonial technology came to South India, hereditary devadasi dancers were the leading actresses of the emergent film world. It was precisely their stigmatized status that enabled them to enter this world at a time when other upper-caste “householding” women could not. Ironically, today upper-caste women dominate Tamil and Telugu language cinema as overt, public objects of sexual desire, in a strangely conservative yet promiscuous, globalized India. The story of this transformation is deeply connected to the emergence of “Bharatanatyam” as a middle-class cultural practice, and to the new forms of nationalized morality that came to be signaled by both Bharatanatyam and new Tamil cinema. Mythological films, the vilification of courtesans and dasis, and the comedic trope of the nattuvanar in cinema radically altered the practice and staging of Bharatanatyam. Later, in the 1950s and 60s, films such Konjum Salangai (“A Little Jingle of the Dancing Bells,” 1962) that explored the complex love-triangle between a musician, a singer and a devadasi dancer, reified middle-class notions about Bharatanatyam’s pasts. The success of this film was largely dependent on the Brahmin female dancer Kamala Lakshman, who had made Bharatanatyam dance “safe” for public consumption a decade earlier. In this paper, I historicize the “cross-fertilization” between Tamil cinema and dance – early cinema represents Bharatanatyam’s pasts, while stage performances of Bharatanatyam are dependent on the aesthetics of cinema. In doing so, I demonstrate how deliberations and on nation, caste, and morality effect the creation of Bharatanatyam as and in cinema.
Evolutionary Trends in South Indian Music
Shri Krupa Dance Foundation
There are claims and counter claims about the origins of South Indian music by various researchers and Indo-centric musicologists. There is a perceived dominance of non-tamil krithis in most concert stages, and preference of musical fraternity to promote the same, especially that of the Carnatic Trinity, whose compositions are mostly in Telugu and Sanskrit, ignoring, discarding the works of native music exponents before the arrival of Trinity. This has resulted in attempts to establish the antiquity and superiority of Thamiz Isai by the Tamil Isai movements and regional political establishments. They believe that the development of Carnatic music from late 17th Century has hijacked the music of the land to obscurity. This paper attempts to understand the evolution of the South Indian music system to its present practiced form, through the influence of regional political powers of the known Tamil history, and through the literary and musical works from ìSangamî age to the late 19th centuries by different authors.
Discussion of Afternoon Papers 4:30-5:30