Referencing or Reproducing? Dancing about South Asia..

Dadawa, Design for "Musical Pilgrimage", 2006

Dadawa, Design for “Musical Pilgrimage”, 2006

The New World of World Dance in China: Dadawa in India, 2006

Once upon a time, in the early 1960s, there was in China a officialized version of what might be called “3rd world” (Bandung bloc defined) dance cadre, anchored in the Beijing stage-arts teaching matrix. As we have noted earlier, their mission was to assimilate non-Sinitic dance styles from amongst the intra-imperial “minor” peoples of the rimlands, where/when they were suitable for full-stage performance, as well as to develop a cadre of entirely foreign-trained (or so seeming) traveling dancers for productions that could be staged at home or on the road when diplomatic formality made this desirable. (Cook take this as far as the dance-dramas in support of African anti-imperialiam, which were on stage as late as 1966). At their zenith (ca. 1965), these special-trained and truly virtuoso-level dancers displayed a commitment to authenticity and accurate mimesis without peer anywhere else: it was this cadre that performed the grand-scale “global” dance in the Finale of East is Red, a module ever since de rigueur (as “dance of the nations” (omni-) dances) tacked on to the end of all regime-change or epoch-saluting major national celebrations, the last in October 2009.

Though by now totally forgotten, and perhaps never paid the tribute it deserves, there was, from as early as the 1950s, a subset of these crossbordering repertory companies that specialized in so-called “nanwu”, one of the 3 major categories of mainly lost, “classical” court dance tradition. That is of relevance here because one of the supposedly extant descendants of this subset was (were) court dance styles from India: Baranatyam, Orissa, and Katak the best known. Perhaps not surprisingly, those are still (even more??) the styles that amateur Chinese dance students are taught in extracurricular classical-dance classes, reminiscent of the way that Maryinsky/Petipa 3,000+ step traditions still dominate amateur ballet classes’ recognized as “Western-classical” almost ever over the globe, China included.


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