This paper investigates the dilemma that has been projected upon Indian female dancers’ bodies by contemporary Indian audiences when female desire occupies the centrality of a performance, projecting the female body as sexual, articulate and independent of the discipline and propriety of classicism. The hostility and discomfort towards the expression of female desire and sexuality in performance by the Kolkata (Calcutta) audience demonstrates a socio-culturally specific, post-colonial and nationalist codification of corporeal aesthetics and female sexuality. Using the frameworks of the Indian nationalist construction of womanhood and chaste postcolonial sensibilities of femininity as the basis for this dilemma, this paper adopts Victor Turner’s notions of liminal and liminoid phenomenon and Brechtian defamiliarisation technique as a feminist strategy to construct a framework within which the contemporary Indian dancer can reclaim her sexuality in performance. To investigate the nature of this complex nationalist trope of chaste Indian womanhood, and to analyse the audience’s reception of a performance that attempts to subvert this trope by placing agency on the female body as sexual, I locate my argument in the discussion of The Silk Route: Memory of a Journey by Kinaetma Theatre, UK which was performed in Kolkata in August 2004.
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