Invented Traditions -  What Makes Indian Dance 'Indian'? 

Video presentation with Gitanjali Kolanad (choreographer, teacher, dance researcher - India) and Brandy Leary (Founder and Artistic Director of Anandam Dancetheatre - Canada).

Gitanjali Kolanad was involved in the practice, performance, and teaching of bharata natyam for more than to  forty years. She performed in major cities in Europe, America and India. She collaborated with noted artists: director Phillip Zarrilli, video/installation artist Ray Langenbach, poet Judith Kroll, among others. Her work incorporated folk and ritual forms of dance, theatre and martial art forms from South India. Gitanjali's collection of short stories,“Sleeping with Movie Stars”, was published in 2011 by Penguin India. She has written on  aspects of Indian dance for major Indian publications. Now, she teaches the Indian martial art form of kalaripayat in Toronto. 

Brandy Leary uses the body as a means of philosophical enquiry, creating contemporary dancetheatre that is at once visceral and transcendent. Brandy holds a BA Honours in Theatre with a specialization in Direction and Asian Theatre from York University. She has lived between Canada and India for the past 14 years training, collaborating and creating in the traditional Indian performing languages of Seraikella and Mayurbhanj Chhau (dance), Kalarippayattu (martial art) and Rope Mallakhamb (aerial rope). 

Brandy Leary founded Anandam Dancetheatre Productions ( in 2002 and is its Artistic Director. She has been the resident choreographer at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto since 2010.  


This will be presented as a lecture with video clips of Leary's recent works, 'Confluence' and 'Precipice' contrasted with her performance of a traditional item from the chauu repertoire.

In 1970, when I first went from Canada to study bharata natyam in India, the dance was described as a revival of a two thousand year old tradition of temple dance going back to the Natya Shastra. This story remains prevalent and is the most widely accepted version of the history of bharata natyam, the descriptor 'two thousand year old dance form' appearing again and again in publicity material, reviews, grant applications, etc to this day, despite lack of historical veracity. 

This story gives audiences with no specialist knowledge of the dance form reasons to suspend  aesthetic judgments. Diasporic practitioners and audiences are deeply attached to the notion of 'ancient' and 'tradition' in relation to Indian dance, and find it hard to explain or value the art form without reference to its age or adherence to a 'tradition'. 

What makes contemporary Indian dance 'Indian' dance? I look at this question through the work of chauu dancer Brandy Leary, who creates contemporary work that doesn't look 'Indian' in any superficial way, and is not buttressed by claims of 'authenticity', but nevertheless embodies 'Indian' concepts of dance and theatre, relationships of dancer to audience, and conforms to 'Indian' aesthetic principles that go back to the Natya Shastra.

Organized by IUGTE in collaboration with "ArtUniverse"