All you wanted to know about Contemporary Dance in India


Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion.-Martha Graham.

If nobody comes to your shows, then it’s modern dance. If everybody comes to your shows and no one likes it, is that ballet? I don’t know. -Mark Morris.

What is contemporary dance? Wikipedia defines it as ‘a dance performance genre that developed during the mid twentieth century and has since grown to become one of the dominant genres for formally trained dancers throughout the world, with particularly strong popularity in the U.S. and Europe.’

Coalescing elements of   modern, jazz, lyrical and classical ballet, contemporary dance is said to have no boundaries even though it is not similar to anarchy. A radical break from the traditional ground rules, contemporary dance stresses on versatility, improvisation and bare -feet floor work.

Pioneered by the trio – Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch and Maurice Bejart- , contemporary dance is a twentieth century trend that moulds art, music, imagery and fashion to take on modern-day issues.

It was Uday Shankar who laid the foundation of contemporary dance in India in the 1920s. His world famous ballets were exceptional combinations of classical Indian dance forms, tribal dances and elements inspired from the West.

In the past hundred years or so, contemporary dance in India has progressed appreciably branching out into varied styles. The Danceworx Company, Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, The Tagore School of Dance are some of the  many flourishing schools that are pushing the boundaries of contemporary dance to produce works distinctive to India and, in the process,  are receiving global acclaim.

From Udaya Shankar to Astad Deboo, the voyage of India’s contemporary dancing is remarkable. Padma Sri, Astad Deboo – who fuses Kathak and Kathakali to create a dance form that is unique to him – is considered the pioneer of modern or contemporary dance in India. So also is the late Chandralekha. There are a few others like Terence Lewis, Ashley Lobo, Preethi Athreya, Madhu Nataraj and of course Mandeep Raikhy who have relentlessly popularized the dance form.

In such a milieu, it was only befitting that the Marg Foundation, now on the 69th year, chose to devote an entire issue to contemporary dance in India. The editorial note by Latika Gupta says, rather succinctly, that contemporary dance in India is growing up to various challenges while dynamically engaging itself with ‘aesthetic, political, social and cultural questions.’

In the opening piece, Astad Deboo and Ketu H. Katrak give an outline of the contemporary dance scenario in India –how organisations   have contributed to its expansion, how individuals have been zealous about their performances and how inventive has been the stage. Then, there are pertinent questions:  is contemporary dance only an urban phenomenon? How does one support it financially? What lies ahead for the young artists?

Leela Venkatraman in her erudite piece delves into the silvery past and chronicles the times and people associated with contemporary dance over the last several decades.

Ranjana Dave raises some significant issues for contemporary dancers in India. Issues like: rigour in dance education and practice, the construction of identity, the notion of freedom and the gaps therein.

Vikram Iyengar in his write up says categorising dance is a typical case of contemporary confusion. While Astad and Kesu have draw a profile of some  key faces of contemporary dance beginning with Mrinalini Sarabhai,Ramaa Bharadvaj’s article on Astad Deboo is an interesting  read. Meticulously written with facts and figures, one gets to learn everything about this theatre legend of Navasari.

‘Neo Dance in India:A Personal Prism’ by Anita Ratnam is about the   meandering journey that she undertook.Mandeep Raikhy’s article is pedagogic and at the same time deals with the some  criticalities  of contemporary dance.

Then there is short sketch of some of the dance companies like Natya & STEM Dance Kampani and Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts (Bangalore),Prakriti Foundation(Chennai),NCPA(Mumbai) and the popular  online resource

The issue has a tête-à-tête with Preethi Athreya by Rakesh Khanna,a short profile of Surjit Nongmeikapam(Imphal) by James Khangenbam and a brief discussion by Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy.

In the concluding piece write Astad Deboo and Ketu H. Katrak, ’individual creativity, the calling to build new movement vocabularies and the increasing professionalization of the art scene in tech-savvy India gives us hope for future endeavours.’

Taken as a whole, the importance of the form and the topicality of the theme necessitated a crucial dialogue which Marg has been able to accomplish.


Contemporary Dance in India, June-September 2017, Rs. 350

The Marg Foundation, Army & Navy Building, 3rd Floor,

148, MG Road, Mumbai 400001

Bhaskar Parichha

Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based senior journalist and author. He writes on almost every conceivable topic but is more obsessive about   writings on society and culture.