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Performative Geographies: Trans-Local Mobilities and Spatial Politics of Dance Across & Beyond the Early Modern Coromandel


This dissertation presents a critical examination of dance and multiple movements across the Coromandel in a pivotal period: the long eighteenth century. On the eve of British colonialism, this period was one of profound political and economic shifts; new princely states and ruling elite defined themselves in the wake of Mughal expansion and decline, weakening Nayak states in the south, the emergence of several European trading companies as political stakeholders and a series of fiscal crises. In the midst of this rapidly changing landscape, new performance paradigms emerged defined by hybrid repertoires, focus on structure and contingent relationships to space and place – giving rise to what we understand today as classical south Indian dance. Far from stable or isolated tradition fixed in space and place, I argue that dance as choreographic practice, theorization and representation were central to the negotiation of changing geopolitics, urban milieus and individual mobility.

This study traces change through intersecting movement of people, ideas and repertoires anchored in specific new and changing urban milieus; developing the concept of performative geographies It unpacks the ways in which multiple stakeholders, themselves often on the move, drew from diverse milieus (performative, geopolitical, temporal and social), connecting through the subcontinent and across the Bay of Bengal. Examining three sets of articulations: of popular representations of performance, ideals of practice, and hybrid performed repertoire; this study reads across text (Indian language plays, memoirs, song text, treatise), painted visuals, and spaces themselves as archives. These circulations and the individual choices they weave together map shifting translocal relationships, imaginaries and politics of space.

This interdisciplinary project lies at the intersection of dance studies, critical cultural studies approaches to space and place, and historiography of the Indian Ocean. It extends postcolonial dance studies investigations of performance and/as politics, focused on twentieth-century nationalisms and globalization, back into a consideration of eighteenth century shifts to engage with early modern scholarship on new subjectivities, circulations and intellectual networks. By offering performative geographies as both framework and methodology, this project works against macro-imperial narratives of decline, colonial rupture, and revival, as well as the fixing of precolonial bodily pasts in order to open up new considerations of urban connectivities across South Asia and the Indian Ocean world.

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