Anurima Banerji is Associate Professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at the University of California in Los Angeles. A trained dancer, she holds a PhD in Performance Studies from NYU. Her writings have appeared in several publications, including the journals About Performance, EPW, Women and Performance, and the edited collection Planes of Composition: Dance, Theory, and the Global. With Violaine Roussel, she co-edited How to do Politics with Art (Routledge, 2016). Her monograph, Dancing Odissi: Paratopic Performances of Gender and State, is forthcoming from Seagull Press. She has received recognition for her research from the Hellman Foundation, the American Association of University Women, the Congress on Research in Dance, and the Society of Dance History Scholars, among others. Recently, she was a Fellow at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study in New Delhi, India.
Classical dance is a significant trope and emblem of identity for the contemporary Indian state and its diasporas. In my project, I examine the aesthetic and political formation of the category “Indian Classical Dance” (ICD) and situate its discursive development and contested career over the past century. A historical assessment of the term suggests that ICD is not an ontological category, but an ideological one shaped by the encounter with Western models of “classicism.” After sketching out the provisional definition and characteristics of classical dance in India as it exists today, the project turns to critically dismantling the phrase in terms of its performative logics. Taking account of ICD as a capacious category, acknowledging the views of its proponents and opponents, and surveying the layers of histories and practices with which it is affiliated, I assert, in the very title of my book, the “Impossibility of Indian Classical Dance.” For after scrutinizing each constituent term, I arrive at the conclusion that the phrase should be abandoned, given that the genre is resolutely not “Indian,” but regional and transnational; not “classical,” but a confluence of the popular, tribal, ritual, and court traditions; and not “dance” alone, but a form of interdisciplinary performance. Finally, I offer the theory of "intermediary incorporation" to account for how performers corporeally negotiate the hybrid structures of ICD, mobilizing their practices against the rhetoric to reveal the contradictions that ultimately destabilize the classical taxonomy.