Winner of the de la Torre Bueno Prize 2020 for writing in the field of dance studies
Odissi holds iconic status as one of the eight classical dance forms recognized and promoted by the Indian government. Dancing Odissi traces the dance’s transformation from its historical role as a regional artistic practice to its modern incarnation as transnational spectacle, with a focus on the state’s regulation of the dance form and the performances of gender embedded within it. Using an interdisciplinary approach that brings together social history, political theory, and dance and performance studies, the book explores three original themes: the idea of the state as a choreographic agent; the performance of ‘extraordinary genders’, or those identities and acts that lie outside everyday norms; and the original concept of the ‘paratopia’—a space of alterity produced by performance. Through an investigation of these themes, the author explores how Odissi has shown the potential to challenge dominant cultural imperatives in India.
‘Dancing Odissi presents a rigorous methodological approach that is culturally situated in the praxis of Odissi while presenting an alternative to existing dance-history models. Positioning herself as an insider, Banerji challenges the dominant narratives of Odissi via insights drawn from fieldwork, material culture, and dance repertoire. [. . .] The maneuver of asserting the agency of the dancing body as opposed to an individuated dancer is particularly compelling. [. . .] Reading historical evidence anew shows the indelible connections between dance and the political, wherein the state deploys and depends on dance. Rightfully recognizing a gap in the field, Banerji dedicates a chapter-length inquiry to a rigorous analysis of ancient inscriptions and sculptures belonging to the Jain era. This problematizes the perceived exclusivity of Hindu religiosity as weaponized by right-wing Hindu fundamentalists for toxic, sociocultural engineering. By demonstrating Odissi's undifferentiated reverence for inscription, embodied motion, and material remains, Banerji provides an alternative to the Eurocentric dance history model.’—Kaustavi Sarkar, Dance Research Journal
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