World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific Conference at Brisbane 
- Dr Sunil Kothari
July 29, 2008 

From 13th till 18th July 2008 at Brisbane, Australia, World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific   in collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane Festival and several other agencies, organized a dance conference which coincided with the Global Summit, held every two years. Two years ago Global Summit was held at Toronto at York University.

This year a large number of dancers and scholars from India and a few from abroad participated in the conference. More than 150 papers from 21 countries were presented in parallel sessions. From New Delhi myself as a Vice President of WDA AP South Asia, Dr Urmimala Sarkar, a Visiting Fellow for Dance at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a co-chair of Research and Documentation Network of WDA AP, Dr Sruti Banerjee, a Manipuri dancer and a reader in Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata,  Dr. Shriparna Mukherjee, Bharatanatyam dancer and a lecturer English in a college  from Kolkata, Aastha Gandhi, an Odissi dancer and a M.Phil student from School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU,  New Delhi, Dr. Utpal Banerjee,  a scholar and critic from New Delhi, Dr. Rustom Bharucha, internationally renowned author, writer, a dramaturg and a cultural critic from Kolkata, Raka Maitra, an Odissi and contemporary dancer from Singapore, Dayashree Pentiah, a Kuchipudi dancer,  from Hyderabad, now settled in Mauritius and Piali Ray, a dancer trained in Uday Shankar school of dance and Director of Sampad institute in Birmingham, UK. attended the conference.

The structure of such international conferences has parallel sessions for paper presentations and generally twenty to thirty minutes are given to each paper presenter with a few minutes for questions and answers. 

Some panel discussions and papers are presented in the main hall also. Simultaneously there are master classes, choreo-lab, dance presentations, showcases where dancers present their choreographic works. Those not used to this procedure feel disappointed when there are few scholars from other countries present, as they wish to share their work not necessarily with Indian scholars only, but also with others. However, the conference whenever possible, publishes the proceedings of the conference. So those who miss out on other papers and subjects can make up for it by reading published papers, or papers published ‘online.’

The theme of the conference was DANCE DIALOGUES: CONVERSATIONS ACROSS CULTURES, ART FORMS AND PRACTICES. It covered a large area and there were special dance dialogues every evening with leading scholars and dance practitioners. 

Sunil Kothari, Rustom Bharucha, Urmimala Sarkar

Sunil Kothari, Lin Cunxin, the Chinese ballet dancer, author of ‘Mao’s Last Dancer,’ Urmimala Sarkar and Aastha Gandhi

Among those dialogues one on Transcultural Conversations by Dr. Rustom Bharaucha and former ballet dancer Li Cunxin with Dr. Anis, the President of WDA AP was most memorable. Li Cunxin, a Chinese dancer was born in poverty but at 11 he was selected to study at Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy and after intensive training he became China’s best dancer who moved to USA and in 1995 moved  to Australia and for the final four years danced as a principal artist for Australian Ballet. His autobiography ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ has won several international awards. Strange as it may sound, after retirement, he is now a senior manager at one of Australia’s biggest stock booking firms. His personal experiences were very moving. Rustom observed how ‘misunderstandings’ in culture result on account of interactions. Li Cunxin’s autobiography and Rustom’s book ‘Another Asia’ were available for signing and many of us took the opportunity to be photographed with them.

Dr. Urmimala Sarkar recently edited a book ‘Dance: Transcending Borders’ with contributions from scholars from three WDAs, the other two being WDA Americas and WDA Europe, It was released on the opening day by a former Australian indigenous  dancer Noel Tovey. It is a landmark work as a project undertaken by her for Research and Documentation Network.

Under the heading Shifting Traditions Scholarly Papers, Aastha Gandhi read a paper on ‘Who frames the dance; writing and performing trinity of Odissi’ with power-point presentation. I presented a paper on ‘New Directions in Indian Dance’ with screenings of excerpts of Chandralekha’s choreography of Sharira and Daksha Seth’s choreographic works, with Rustom Bharucha in the chair.

Dr. Shriparna Ghosal presented her paper ‘The problematics of tradition and talent in Indian classical dance’ and Dr. Sruti Banerjee on ‘Dance: the tool of Sanskritization process in Manipur’ under the heading South Asian Dialogues.

Dayashre, Sunil Kothari, Sruti Banerjee, Piali Ray, Noel Tovy, Aastha Gandhi & Shriparna Ghosal

Sunil Kothari, Adrienne Koeppler, Urmimala Sarkar, 
Dr. Anis Mohd Nor Md

Transcending Borders was the  title of the panel /paper presentations under which Dr. Urmimala Sarkar spoke with power-point about negotiating identities through dance in the Hall, where next day Dr. Utpal Banerjee presented ‘Tagore’s dance evolution and trans-cultural horizon’ under the heading ‘Dancing across genres and practices’ with rare illustrations of Tagore’s drawings of dance.

An interesting panel discussion was ‘Critics and artists converse’ with Robert Liew in the chair and dancers and critics spoke about the various issues about dance criticism. Raka Maitra lamented about the young critics without any knowledge, who review contemporary dance in Singapore.

As mentioned earlier, one missed out parallel sessions of other topics like ‘Dance out of the Diaspora’ in which Melbourne based Malaysian Odissi and Bharatanatyam exponent  Dr. Chandrabhanu participated. 

There were performances in the evening as a part of the Brisbane Festival. Some of us were able to see ‘Giselle’ ballet at the main theatre. Other performances which we saw were Expressional Dance Company’s contemporary work and excerpts of the Queensland ballet. 

The vast canvass of the conference was difficult to gauge but the informal meetings with several scholars were very rewarding. This was the year of election as per the constitution. Prof. Cheryl Stock, Vice President of Pacific region and I for South Asia have completed our four terms of eight years as Vice President. From India for South Asia, I have nominated Dr Urmimala Sarkar as Vice President of South Asia. She was unanimously elected.

And we have announced that we shall have the next WDA AP Conference and Annual General Meeting in New Delhi, India in collaboration with Jawaharlal Nehru University next year in the first week of December 2009.

I am sending this report from Melbourne where at Monash Asia Institute and Asialink at Victoria University, my lectures on contemporary Indian dance are organized. Mohiniattam and Kathakali exponent Tara Rajkumar, who is a Director at Monash Asia Institute for developing courses in dance, is working on an important project about which I shall write in my next report.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is the Visiting Professor for Dance, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. As a member of the executive committee of International Dance Council (UNESCO), Paris, and Vice President of World Dance Alliance for South Asia from India, he has authored 14 books on Indian dance and was a dance critic of The Times of India group of publications for more than 35 years. He is the recipient of the Padma Shri in 2001 for outstanding contribution to the field of classical Indian Dance and related arts.