The Evolving Politics Of Odissi
Krishna Menon
Languid Bodies, Grounded Stances: The Curving Pathways Of Neoclassical Odissi Dance by Nandini Sikand Orient BlackSwan, New Delhi, 2018, 234 pp., 975
August 2018, volume 42, No 8

Jaydeep Sarangi has always been a prolific poet; Faithfully I Wait, is his sixth poetry collection. Sarangi lays open his soul in this collection of poems. Reading through the catalogue of his works would enlighten a reader of Sarangi’s oeuvre—a long list of collections, edited anthologies, translations and critiques. Be it poetry as an art form, translation, anthology or critique, this poet is bound to the genre of verse. The collection is sequential, with the wordplay on ‘faithful’ or ‘faithfully’ functioning as a motif, reinforcing Sarangi’s faith in poetry. There is a strong autobiographical thread and a concurrent temporality in this collection; recollections of the past, living memories, visions of the future and commitments of the present are all wrapped up faithfully in verse. The poems explore moments, revelations, premonitions, and form fragments of a holistic thought process that defines the essence of verse.

Nandini Sikand’s book, Languid Bodies, Grounded Stances: The Curving Pathways of Neoclassical Odissi Dance, is yet another important contribution to the growing attempts at re-visiting the ‘classical’ (in this case, the author describes it, for very strong reasons, as neoclassical) dances and music of India. Bharata Natyam and Kathak and to an extent, Kathakali already have definitive accounts of their respective evolutionary histories. The book under review is one of the first scholarly accounts of Odissi. It attempts to approach Odissi not as an exotic and spiritual/mystic temple art that is unique to its place of origin, rather, it presents Odissi as a part of the larger human endeavour to engage in artistic expression.

The author, although a trained Odissi dancer and performer, does not hesitate to bring a critical lens to the dance form, and more importantly, is prepared to place the dance within a network of social, economic and political structures that are local, regional, national and international/global. In doing this, the author is able to demonstrate effectively the constructed and re-constructed nature of ‘classical arts’ such as Odissi, and move away from a ‘holy cow’ attitude that has come to characterize much of the engagement with the classical arts forms in India. The latter approach does tremendous disservice to the dance form, presenting it as ossified and rigid.

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