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Phoenix: Rising from ashes of modernity
- Priyakshi Agarwal

September 2, 2020

I should begin expressing my motivation for joining the Course by saying that I was born and went to 'Government' 'Girls' Higher Secondary School with instructions in Hindi for 16 initial years of my life in the village of Banera in the South-East of Rajasthan in India. This is not to begin from the original location in chronological order and claim any indigeneity but rather to mark this point of departure as a constitutive condition of my journey with dance and my practice. I participated in complex dances in my village such as Ghoomar, Terah Tali in innumerable festivals in the village, marriage celebrations, state celebrations of Independence Day and Republic Day at the school. I navigated them through a sense of movement and formations, community and space before I came to recognize them as 'folk dances of Rajasthan'. It was also quite later on that I came to see being raised in a middle-class joint family of 16 people - the obstructions to my requests to dance, creation of hostile conditions towards my desire of expression through my movements, constant demand of duty and care, making it clear to me in no fuzzy terms my role in society - the iron curtain of 'Girls don't go out' as continued violence of a paternalist society.

My practice of dance as clenching of teeth, as pulling my act together, as practicing on the blisters, as feminist killjoy (in words of Sara Ahmed), as a dance practice of survival is based on the junction of these two constitutive conditions - 'folk dance' and 'violence of a paternalist society'. Yet, retrospectively and in reflection, I have become aware that things were never that binary. One, the means of paternal society are very many and complex (I think here with writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and bell hooks) - the love of the family, money or even protection from violence outside. Still, on another level, there was a relationship between my village and the state capital and metropolitan cities of Bombay and Delhi where most dance institutions and societies were - they were too far, too protected, too pristine, too 'English language oriented' for my village accent - accent both in my feet and in my voice.

Throughout this process of nagging, crying, fasting, looking out from a locked room, countering incredible period pains, moving to the nearby city of a bachelor in commerce, winning dance competitions, ducking unending requests for CV for arranged marriage from innumerable responsible-of-me, shouting, turning purple in rage, getting past to a master in business administration in Mumbai, I learned to patiently deconstruct the complex web of multifold violent structure through which I can sync in desire in my feet and epistemology handed to me by my 'folk'. This epistemological intangible maternal heritage - passed to me in gossips and rumors - tied in a knot in my movements has always accompanied me. I was announced as a 'rebel' when refusing neo-liberal management jobs. This is when I went to see Dr. Mallika Sarabhai dancing Bharatanatyam and asked her to accept me as her student after her performance. She did and I consider this acceptance one of my major achievements - an affectionate extension of support from one feminist to another.

With Dr. Mallika Sarabhai

This marks the third constitutive condition of my dance practice. I have been initiated into Bharatanatyam dance under the tutelage of Dr. Mallika Sarabhai and completed my arangetram. Under her guidance, I have more recently been curating the program of Natarani amphitheater and contributing towards program coordination and administration in the Darpana Institute of Performing Arts at Ahmedabad in India. In recent years, performing Bharatanatyam at innumerable locations, training and practicing other martial art forms such as Kalaripayattu and Chhau in different parts of India, learning and conducting workshops of Keralan temple drums, choreographing and teaching students - I have come to regard this continued practice as a research based arts practice - simultaneously both embodied and tangential to space in which they are being formed. From Natyasastra to reconstruction of Bharatanatyam, between colonization and modernization, from Kathak, Ghoomar to Flamenco to Roma, from orientalism to futurism, between industry and village, between village and Anthropocene - these entangled lines have motivated me to apply at Choreomundus in hope to expand this specific, micro and local practices with international solidarities and affinities for which I am sure it is definitely the place.

I am committed to the agenda of cohabiting this world with new imaginaries of resistances through our embodied dance based researches, commoning and coming together with other colleagues as we do in a dance formation and to dare to have the ambition to make this planet more inhabitable in current times.

Choreomundus focuses on fieldwork and formal analysis of movement, and engages with a variety of theoretical and methodological frameworks. The programme provides practical skills to observe, analyse, document, and evaluate dances, thereby developing an appreciation of dance that is comparative, cross-cultural, applied, and embodied. It equips students to make sense of intangible heritage within a culturally diverse world, to promote culturally appropriate modes of knowledge transmission, and to engage with cultural differences and problems of social exclusion in the 21st century.

(Choreomundus - International master in Dance Knowledge, Practice, and Heritage.
The programme is offered by a consortium of four universities internationally recognised for their leadership in the development of innovative curricula for the analysis of dance and other movement practices. Countries where I would be going are France, Hungary, Norway, and London.)

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