Traversing the Contemporary (pl)

The stand-alone project Traversing the Contemporary (pl.): Choreographic Articulations Between European and Indian Dance (Austrian Science Fund [FWF] P_24190-G15), critically interrogates the aesthetic category of the “contemporary” for concert dance in Central and Northern continental Europe.

The project purposefully attends to a diversity of form. Case studies, which centrally look at choreographic articulations between European and Indian dance, conducted by postdoctoral researcher Sandra Chatterjee, analyze the choreographies’ cultural hybridities and aesthetic multiligualisms, without depending on the (Indian) origins and nationalities of the choreographers- at the same time as of course the positionalities of the choreographers play an important role for the analysis and contextualization of the works.

In the European context, contemporary works that engage Indian dance are own primarily through the British choreographer Akram Khan, who is known as one of the most important choreographers of Europe. The doctoral researcher Anna Wieczorek looked at Khan’s work as one of three protagonists of European dance (Akram Khan, Sidi Larbi Cherkauie, and Faustin Linyekula), whose work can be looked at through the lens of interculturalism. Her emphasis was on looking at the negotiation and performance of cultural difference physically, rather than through language.

However, a number of choreographers work within continental Europe on choreographic articulations between European and Indian dance in very different contexts. The conditions of production as well as reception, as well as the cultural and personal contexts of the choreographers in continental Europe differ vastly from the British context- hence the project works to shed light on those works and contexts.

The choreographers whose work is central to the project (centrally the Johanna Devi Dance Company in Berlin, Rani Nair in Sweden, and Kalpana Raghuraman at the Korzo Theater in Den Haag, as well as Priya Srinivasan and Revanta Sarabhai) work fluently and rigorously with multiple aesthetic conventions, theatrical forms and movement languages. The choreographers of the three central case studies were born and raised in Europe (except Srinivasan and Sarabhai). They are European choreographers, but Indian dance and aesthetics are not foreign to them. Traversing multiple cultural forms, movement languages and aesthetics is integral to their artistic identities as European choreographers.

Approaching their works and the conditions of production and reception in which they are contextualized via the categories of “familiar” and “foreign/other” – which continue to dominate current discourses of migration and cultural multiplicity in Europe does not suffice. The project’s central research question therefore takes postcolonial theory’s notion of a contested “now“ as its starting point (for example as advanced by the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty within his critique of historicism as a European intellectual tradition[1]). Translating the premise of a contested now to the category of the contemporary suggests that there are criteria that limit “the contemporary” and exclude that which is its other. The initial assumption of the investigation is therefore, that the choreographic practices that are at the center of this research project do not unambiguously fit into the category of the contemporary in European dance. This category and its boundaries, therefore, need to be expanded.

[1] Chakrabarty, Dipesh (2000). Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.