Referencing or Reproducing? Dancing about South Asia..

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What this means for the narrative of “india” reperformed is that a gap is assumed and allowed to be sustained throughout: the “Chinese” pilgrim-explorer simulates a flow of feeling, but when that turns out to be extra-verbal, and lacking in (supposedly) surviving contes historiques, the quest gradually loses energy. For most of the length of the episode, Dadawa is “overheard” talking to herself, by which she sustains a vague sense of pleasure, optimism. But when her film- or novel -based knowledge (Rahman and Rai) enters the overvoicing, it is always “as if”. Whenever she attempts to find its confirmation in the acts or songs of her “gyspies” (Bopal for example) it turns out that neither poetry nor legend nor history are in any way linked in: a “gypsy” ballad-song turns out to be Kashmiri; the “opera” she is hoping for is condensed into a puppet show featuring a painted danceuse, handled masterfully, but somehow not seeming to excite her even to the degree we outsiders are thus delighted, wish to see more.

The denouement of thus non-intersection comes during a finale in the older suburbs outside the fortress, when she is accosted, as it were, by a friendly local man who lures her in as a dancing partner…

I think it is more than that: the pilgrims who are leading us into Rajasthan, not the least their on-camera star, insist that they are in pursuit of history and what it has left behind – meaning songs and ballads telling of early Rajput dynasts and their princesses. A romantic idea that might just make it credible to believe that surviving street songs descend from the magical Gypsy past.

But in-the-street experience teaches otherwise: her most authentic guide, Babu Nath, (shown below) indeed performs what is clearly streetdance-begging, enlisting wife, brother, son, and daughter (we see them showing off their routine), but there is no mention of Gypsy lineage. Part of the backstory of course is that “gypsies” acknowledging that name for their art inherit the lowest of caste estates, precisely because they are market-place nomads, in essence beggars, living off audience interest.

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