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In Session: And Then There Were Hindus, Asiatics and Orientals: Identity Making and Performance in Europe
1: Dancing “Oriental” Masculinity: Uday Shankar (1900–1977) and his Transcultural Dance Experiments
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Dancing “Oriental” Masculinity: Uday Shankar (1900–1977) and his Transcultural Dance Experiments Uday Shankar (1900–1977) became an icon of oriental masculinity in the period 1925–1950 through his choreographic experiments and creative innovations in dance. Acknowledged for his fame as a dancer, he is identifies as a cultural ambassador who captured the attention of Western audiences with his embodiment of specific Eastern aesthetics. Shankar’s choreography consisted of many full-length productions and short dance pieces, attracting audiences from all over the world and from all corners of India. Through the range of performances, with himself taking principle male roles, he created a picture of great cultural diversity, highlighting the embodied aesthetics of gendered representations from different parts of the colony. Through historiographical research, I analyse the development of his genre of experimental modern dance, in which he used to his benefit stereotypes of the Orient in Western understandings of gender, constructed through a range of encounters with Western modern dance. A detailed analysis of his choreographic outcomes establishes his efforts in creating a counter-balance against the popular assumption of effeminacy and submissiveness of males within so-called Oriental cultures. His portrayal of male warriors, kings and gods in many of his choreographies contrasted sharply with carefully used dance movements from regional cultures, rituals and popular festivals. This paper uses archival material to propose that most of his choreographies—where he remained one of the central characters— used self-orientalisation as a specific technique to ensure a consistent and favourable reception in the west.