Pallabi Chakravorty

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year

Pallabi Chakravorty teaches Kathak dance and academic courses related to the anthropology of performance in the Department of Music and Dance at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, USA.  Founder and artistic director of the ensemble Courtyard Dancers, she is an anthropologist, dancer, choreographer, and cultural worker. 

Classical dance in India is gradually being subjected to scrutiny and debate as parameters regarding the underpinnings of society - culture, nation, identity, and history - begin to alter and shift in response to changing political and economic conditions, advancements in the instruments of mass media, and the new theories of academia.

Ms. Pallabi Chakravorty, a doctoral student in visual-cultural anthropology at Temple University, Philadelphia, has completed preliminary research on her dissertation thesis on classical Indian dance and identity formation among women. This grant will enable her to undertake further research and make fieldtrips to India over a period of one year towards completion of her thesis.

She will use ethnographic field material and contemporary anthropological theory to examine how classical dance in India, and Kathak in particular, is helping women forge new identities. The focus of her study will not be the large bulk of lower-middle and middle class women who are using their experience with dance to negotiate questions of gender, identity, and personal freedom in the context of a transnational culture.

The researcher is acutely conscious of her own role in this study: both because she is a trained Kathak dancer, and can thus bring to bear her personal experiences in the field on her dissertation thesis, and also because of the new anthropological interrogation of the place of the investigator in cultural studies. Her fieldwork will cover the institute in Calcutta, the Nupur Dance Academy, where she trained as a dancer and to which she still belongs as a student, besides two other institutes in the same city – Rabindra Bharati University and Padatik. Fieldwork will be conducted in other Indian cities like Ahmedabad and Delhi.

Chakravorty’s research methodology is intended to be as exhaustive as possible. It involves: archival research; participant observation; network analysis, which involves researching into the extended support systems for dance and its associate institutes; semi-structured interviews with dancers from different social backgrounds; life histories of dancers from different age groups; content analysis of mass media (television programmes, newspaper articles and so on); and group discussions. Her research will be detailed and intensive enough to constitute perhaps the first study that examines classical Indian dance and identity formation in the context of post-nationalism and cultural globalism.