Classical Indian Dance at the Crossroads

By Donovan Roebert


As recently as twenty years ago classical Indian dance was still able to find wide public support and institutional means for artistic sustenance through its status as a national treasure and a major product of the national-independence-cultural syndrome. It subsisted, and grew used to subsisting, on this almost politically-favoured basis until, in the last two decades or so, while public and institutional attitudes have changed and adopted new cultural symbols for progress, the dance ecology has in this same period had to cast about for new avenues of support and artistic nourishment.

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A Note on Sringara Rasa

By Donovan Roebert


Most rasikas, when speaking about sringara rasa, will strike out in the direction of the sublimation of the erotic or some such phrase. Then, when you ask them to explain what they mean, you find they hardly know, or do not know at all, because the phrase has become not much more than a convenient escape route from the threatening notion of sringara itself.

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Rukmini Devi and the Devadasi Question : An Opinion

By Donovan Roebert


(This is my second attempt at writing this essay. In the first I was disposed towards the complete exoneration of Rukmini Devi in her attitude towards the devadasis and the Isaivellalar community to which she owed so much for her own reincarnation of Bharata Natyam. The more information I came across, however, and the more I delved into the matter, the more untenable I began to find my own intended position. What follows, then, though it retains much of what I had previously written, is really only an attempt to answer the question more fairly for myself. I write as someone with a deep admiration for Rukmini Devi’s accomplishments as well as for her complicated – and in many ways inscrutable – character. What follows is an attempt to formulate my own personal understanding of the problem.)

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On the Dancing Feet

By Donovan Roebert


The dancer’s feet are aalta-painted as those of the bride on her journey to her betrothed, the deva. Recalling those of the devadasi, her feet cross the threshold of the temple-stage to dance the preliminary pushpanjali in the presence of her divine bridegroom. The remainder of the recital, progressing from movement to movement, and culminating in the nritta of tillana or moksha, constitutes stages of love-intensity directed formalistically at a formless infinitude, the unknowable and unmeasurable, which the deva-groom represents.

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The Karma of Classicism in Indian Dance

By Donovan Roebert


In an earlier essay on the Jayantika movement I tried to make a case, based on the reincarnation of karmic traces, for the genuine classicism of Odissi. I argued there that these traces were present in a number of historical givens to which the movement had access for the purpose of re-embodying the dance, and that the classicism of Odissi resided in the fact that these traces were a composite classical ‘meme’ waiting to be reincarnated in a new avtaar.


I want to take this idea a little further here in the hope of clarifying for myself how the argument which I made with reference only to Odissi, may be applied now to the concept of classicism as it relates to the Indian dances generally.

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The Foundational Ambiguity in Classical Indian Dance

By Donovan Roebert


The language of art bears a burden of ambiguity because, rather than only speaking about life, it speaks life, and life for us human beings is ambiguous in all its ways. We need look no further, if we wish to confirm this radically for ourselves, than at the simple and essential truth that death is present to life at every living, yet dying, moment. It is perhaps from this quintessential and inexorable paradox that our quotidian struggle against ambiguity derives. We want to be sure that we understand and that we are understood. But art, if it is the kind of art that speaks life, never satisfies our craving for the lucid grasp : always we are left slightly in the dark, groping our way towards its meaning.

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