Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the
May 9, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
From India, Dance Diplomacy
Here in Central New Jersey, we don’t need a 10-year
census to tell us about changing demographics. The arts and music
calendar is a ready indicator that some of the most highly-regarded
artists from other continents now live, work, and perform in the
"Losing Geography, Finding Self" is an ongoing series at the
Princeton Public Library that explores how artistic identity is
when artists cross national borders. This week Indian-born dancer,
choreographer, and scholar Uttara Asha Coorlawala presents
Indianess: India and the USA," at the library on Wednesday, May
16, at 7:30 p.m.
Joining her program are California-based dancers Sandra Chatterjee
and Shyamala Moorty. Chatterjee is trained in Kuchipudi (as well as
ballet, modern, and Tahitian dance) and Moorty is trained in
Both are in the graduate program of UCLA’s department of World Arts
Chatterjee and Moorty will each perform samplings of their traditional
dances, and then together perform part of a contemporary dance piece
that includes biographical references to their own experiences living
in and between two cultures.
A generation ahead of these dancers, Coorlawala was born in Hyderabad
and later moved with her family to Bombay. She came to the United
States as an undergraduate at Smith College where she earned her
in theater and dance. Beginning with her college experience, she
in Baratanatyam, a classical Indian temple dance form, as well as
in American modern dance. She danced in Pearl Lang’s company and other
contemporary American companies.
As a dancer-choreographer, Coorlawala pioneered what is now a growing
trend on the Indian dance scene towards innovation. Her choreographic
style and performances brought her three disciplines — modern
dance, Bharatanatyam and yoga — to the dance stage. During her
20-year performing career she danced throughout India, Europe, and
the United States, and as a designated cultural representative of
India. Married to Haresh Lalvani, a member of the faculty of the Pratt
Institute’s School of Architecture, she lives in New York.
Her talk focuses on the 20th century background of the discovery of
"Indianness" through Indian dance, showing how dance helped
create a sense of identity in 20th-century India, and how that
has been changed by Indians living in the United States.
"I had to run away from home to become a dancer," says
cheerfully from her home in New York. Although "Uttara" is
an ancient Sanskrit word name for a dancer, she says "At that
time you couldn’t do it. What bothered my parents was that they had
never known anyone who had made a career in dance." Her father
was an officer in the British Indian Army who moved into industry
and became director of a cement company.
"When I was growing up, we were coming out of World War II and
independence, little was known about Indian cultural history.
— originally a temple dance form — we didn’t know about when
I was growing up." In 1965, Coorlawala transferred to Smith
where she found dance was part of the liberal arts curriculum. After
majoring in theater and dance, she established her performing career.
Later she went on to earn her Ph.D. in choreography and performance
from New York University. She is currently a visiting lecturer in
World Dance at Princeton University.
"India didn’t exist before the British," she says. "There
was no one place, no one concept, it was many, many kingdoms,
and cultures. India was born out of resisting the British."
"Dance was one very strong carrier of the differences between
Colonial British culture and the cultures that we were born to and
had neglected. It’s like a long series of cultural exchanges and
misreadings of the situation. Indian dance was not debased by the
British, because the British simply were not interested in Indian
dance. Nobody knew it existed, nobody knew about the real stuff, or
where to find it."
With Indian independence came the rediscovery of traditional forms
which had endured in pockets throughout the continent. At a time when
insurarity and issues of foreign exchange allowed few Indians to
abroad, cultural exchange became a key element of diplomatic contacts
in the post-Independence period. "Indian dancers and musicians
were sent as cultural emissaries. Suddenly anybody who had any
in dance became important and valuable for diplomatic purposes,"
Now schools of Indian dance are found throughout the United States.
"As it exists today, classical dance forms are considered high
culture, and offer a way for young person to learn about their culture
and mythology through music and movement. When you’re learning the
dance, you’re connecting with the culture, you’re experiencing a way
of thinking — a kind of linguistic structure of its own."
— Nicole Plett
65 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-9529. Uttara Asha Coorlawala presents
"Dancing Indianess: India and the USA." Wednesday, May
16, 7:30 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.