Rewriting Dance History  
- Shani, Delhi 

August 7, 2005 

Dance historian, scholar and critic Dr. Sunil Kothari organized a fascinating session at the India International Centre in New Delhi to highlight and re-assess the work of New York-based dancer and choreographer Uttara Asha Coorlawala. The event drew a "to die for" Delhi audience and Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan chaired the discussion. 

What unfolded at the session were two strands.  The first, was a re-introduction of Coorlawala's choreographies interspersed with some video clips of her dances. The clips threw light on her unique merging of Indian sensitivities with modern dance movement; Coorlawala is trained in the Graham-Cunningham technique. Seen through the distance prism of a couple of decades, the choreography seemed intense without being avant garde; but 30 years ago her work would have been visually and intellectually different. 

Coorlawala decided to live in New York and slowly got erased from public memory; the young generation in India barely knows who she is and what her work was all about.  So Sunil Kothari pulling her out of the Big Apple and dusting her with new stardust was a good idea and the exchange between the dancer-choreographer and Dr. Kothari was interesting to those interested in dance development and its history.  
The second stream of what was happening in the IIC auditorium was more startling. Sub-agendas emerged in the conversation and the dramatis personae made their political moorings obvious. The lecture seemed to have been crafted to demolish choreographer Chandralekha's position as the "original" thinker.  By dating slides and videos of Coorlawala to at least seven years before Chandralekha, the history of modern Indian dance was sought to be rewritten and Chandralekha's work was contextualized as not original but rather in the same vein. Pointing their differences, Coorlawala said that while Chandralekha's work moved away from Bharatanatyam, her own trajectory moved towards Bharatanatyam. 

Another politicisation occurred when Dr. Vatsyayan picked up an innocuous comment that Indian dance should not be exclusive but inclusive (stated in the context of banis and gharanas) and made a marked point of it to Mr. Ram Niwas Mirdha, current Chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, who was in the audience. Dr. Vatsyayan asked him to pay attention to the comment that the classical classification should not become a vehicle for excluding artists; art should be truly democratic, participatory and inclusive. Suddenly, the event became a us (read Congress) versus them (BJP) event, and the shadow of Sonal Mansingh, just-replaced Chairperson of the SNA, filled the granite ceiling of the IIC. And the official SNA video team was recording this lecture and interaction for posterity, politics and future research!  

Lessons learnt:  The rewriting of history is not the predilection of just the BJP-mongers; perfectly secular thinkers are just as keen on rewriting history!!! Jai Hind just said hello to Jai Ram. 

Response to Shani’s review
- Uttara Asha Coorlawala, NYC 
September 1, 2005 

I am appalled at the nasty tone of the writer casting aspersions on my integrity and transforming my intentions.  
[See, Reviews, "Rewriting Dance History" August 7, 2005].  

Is Shani implying that the dates presented in my lecture have been fabricated?  

Fact: All the photos shown and reviews were published in various magazines and papers of the time. Anyone can verify them.  

There was no "sub-agenda" to demolish another artist. The point of my lecture was to present a chronology of my artistic career. And I thank Sunil Kothari for arranging it. 

I took great pains to point out that I have the greatest respect and admiration for Chandra's work, that I adore the woman as a friend and mentor. We took different and independent paths that intersected with similar concerns. 

I maintain my claim that I had been presenting a combination of yoga, Bharatanatyam and modern dance techniques in public performances since the 70s. Yes, young dancers can not know how dance was so well attended in the days before traffic jams and TV. My point is that at a time, when every one kept saying East is East and West is West, I was playing (within art frames) in traditional techniques. Something must have resonated (and I recall how it would astonish and scare me) when my performances were sold out, and tickets were scalped. However I reiterate that to claim my own contribution is not to belittle some one else's. 

Drop the crab mentality, Shani, and move out of cheap and easy sensationalism. For years you have been doing the same thing…