Los Angeles, California
Anurima Banerji (CBA ’23) is Associate Professor and current Graduate Vice Chair in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at University of California Los Angeles. Her research principally concerns critical historicizations of Indian dance and its relationship to the state. She is the author of the monograph Dancing Odissi: Paratopic Performances of Gender and State and the recipient of the 2020 de la Torre Bueno Prize awarded by the Dance Studies Association.
Project: Classical dance is a significant trope and emblem of identity for the contemporary Indian state, its subjects, and its diasporas. In this project, however, Anurima Banerji argues that there is no such thing as “Indian Classical Dance” because each term in that seemingly stable formulation can be critically interrogated to reveal its contingencies–and beyond that, there is no actual framework for the “classical” in the Indian aesthetic realm, historically speaking. She examines how the aesthetic category of “classical dance” was invented and situates its institutionalization as a legacy of colonial modernity, later enshrined by postcolonial Indian authorities as an official artistic genre alongside the “tribal,” the “folk,” and the “contemporary” designations in cultural policy. Today, the Indian government recognizes eight dance forms as classical: Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Manipuri, Odissi, Kathakali, Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi, and Sattriya. Rather than attending to any single species of dance, however, this project looks at the production of a whole system of knowledge production tied to classicism in the dance arena, promulgated by different regimes of state power. Banerji suggests that the ideology of classicism was imported to India during the period of British imperialism and used as a politicized lexical term by Indian elites to establish cultural equivalence between Indian dance practices and ballet. Critiquing the “classical” as a universal or self-evident category, the project is aimed at provincializing, historicizing, and decolonizing the “classical” as a prevailing genre in dance.