The library at the Alliance Française of Madras was packed. They had brought in extra chairs from the classrooms – the ones with the little foldable tables – and still there wasn’t enough for everyone; this turned out be a good thing for me. That afternoon, late in 2004, still early in the new millennium, we were gathered for a discussion with Chandralekha, the woman who redefined the horizons of contemporary dance, about her latest creation, Sharira. And I found myself seated on the floor right in front of Chandralekha, literally at her feet – it was like a premonitory set-up for another kind of learning at the Alliance Française.
It was here that I first saw some excerpts of Sharira – on the library’s TV set, a few weeks before seeing the full-length live version at Spaces, Besant Nagar. It was simply a revelation. The dance was nothing like what I knew dance to be, and my epiphany came shortly after when Chandralekha started to talk. Dance, she said, was not just performance. That is when it dawned on me that ‘dance’ is a noun and a verb unto itself; it did not need the suffix of ‘performance’. Dance can be contemplative and meditative, with movement and aesthetics being only a part of it. Then she said something that forever changed the way I would consider women on stage – Chandralekha talked about how aesthetics evolved to please the male gaze.
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