Tiny Choreography as/of/in Indian Performance

Embodied Critical Theory

In the context of this idea of embodied critical theory that we are embarking on, I was keen to examine the ideas of Tiny and Choreography in Indian performance philosophy. My starting point into this investigation is articulated by Andre Lepecki’s assertion,

Dance as critical theory and critical praxis proposes a body that is less an empty signifier than a material, social inscribed agent, a non-univocal body, an open potentiality, a force field constantly negotiating its position in the powerful struggle for its appropriation and control (2004,6).

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I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of inner self. I am not the five senses. I am beyond that. I am not the ether, nor the earth, nor the fire, nor the wind (i.e. the five elements). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, Shiva, love and pure consciousness.

Neither can I be termed as energy (Praana), nor five types of breath (Vaayu), nor the seven material essences (dhaatu), nor the five coverings (panca-kosha). Neither am I the five instruments of elimination, procreation, motion, grasping, or speaking. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, Shiva, love and pure consciousness.

I have no hatred or dislike, nor affiliation or liking, nor greed, nor delusion, nor pride or haughtiness, nor feelings of envy or jealousy. I have no duty (dharma), nor any money, nor any desire (refer: kama), nor even liberation (refer: moksha). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, Shiva, love and pure consciousness.

I have neither virtue (punya), nor vice (paapa). I do not commit sins or good deeds, nor have happiness or sorrow, pain or pleasure. I do not need mantras, holy places, scriptures, rituals or sacrifices (yajna). I am none of the triad of the observer or one who experiences, the process of observing or experiencing, or any object being observed or experienced. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, Shiva, love and pure consciousness.

I do not have fear of death, as I do not have death. I have no separation from my true self, no doubt about my existence, nor have I discrimination on the basis of birth. I have no father or mother, nor did I have a birth. I am not the relative, nor the friend, nor the guru, nor the disciple. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, Shiva, love and pure consciousness.

 I am all pervasive. I am without any attributes, and without any form. I have neither attachment to the world, nor to liberation. I have no wishes for anything because I am everything, everywhere, every time, always in equilibrium. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, Shiva, love and pure consciousness.



Like Anzaldua (2012), it is only when I moved away from my own practice of dance, questioning it and analysing it in the academic and pedagogic space, and encountered the freedom of ambiguity did I find my home in it. The Tiny as in the Beeja/ Seed, as I see it now is me. Everything I need is in me. What a beautiful and empowering idea! My unease with Ahmed and Hong and others who talk of disavowal and death and survival possibly emerges from here.
However much like the seed, which holds its potential in its heart, wrapped in many layers, this idea of the human form as Purusha as the core of the performative philosophy lies wrapped in many implicit and explicit layers. If it is forgotten, and it often is, that the entire performative structure of Indian dance is built for reaching increasing subtlety and refinement within a system of identifications, corrospondences and correlatives, then the theory and grammar of the dance appears to be a jumble of classification and re-classification (Vatsyayan1997, 39). The unpacking of the layers is made possible through a pedagogical process which mirrors Ranciere’s interplay of intelligence and will (1991).


In the Natyashastra, the view of the body is very different from what is understood as the corporeal frame (Nair 2015). The body is the microcosm of the universe and in the body it is possible to represent the relationships of the macrocosm through organic interconnections of the part and the whole. Much like a seed, a continuous but well-defined course of growth, decay and renewal of the cosmos and therefore art, is embedded in this worldview (Vatsyayan 2015, 21). The Indian artist’s concern is thus with Form (beeja) in the mathematical sense, a design imbued with a consciousness of totality. This mirrors the idea of agential realism as proposed by Karen Barad (2007) which takes a performative approach to understanding representationalism. This method focuses on the practices of performing representation as well as the products of those practices and the conditions of their efficacy.

Ranciere (1991) argues for a universal possibility of learning when he says that anyone can learn the process which comes naturally to men; that of observing, retaining, repeating, verifying, relating and reflecting. This learning pattern is very similar to the process of manan (learning something through repetition and observation) and chintan (contemplating and reflecting on what was learnt) (Chatterjea 1996); the whole is knowable by knowing one part. The Natyashastra emphasises on the ‘universality’ of production and reception of emotions. This universality leads to a disruption of power structures rendering all men equal and all intelligences equal. This equality is a product of diversity, difference and multiplicity (Ranciere 1991). This circles back to the idea of the purusha being the beeja or seed of the cosmos. The human body replicates form but does not duplicate it; an apple seed will always grow into an apple tree, but no two trees are identical either in form or shape or quality of fruit.

This is my Tiny exploration into the philosophies of performance, of which I was tacitly aware but not completely cognizant. There are many aspects here that I still want to explore and examine. Hong’s argument that neoliberalism disavows and denies any way of life that does not have economic value rings true in contemporary India today especially with respect to the classical art traditions. Tiny Choreographies for me is a point to begin ways of creating frameworks of teaching, talking, thinking and making dance infused with the empowering idea that “I” am the powerful Tiny/ Beeja/Seed.

Anzaldua, Gloria. 2012. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books; 4th edition.
Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Durham and London. Duke University press.
Betasamosake Simpson, Leanne. 2017. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press.
Chatterjea, Ananya. 1996. “Training in Indian Classical Dance: A Case Study”. Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1 Spring. pp. 68-91. University of Hawai'i Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1124303
Hong, Grace Kyungwon. 2015. Death Beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference. Minneapolis, London. University of Minnesota Press.
Nair, Sreenath. Ed. 2015. The Natyashastra and the Body in Performance. North Carolina. Mc Farland & Company Inc. Publisers.
Ranceire, Jacques. 1991. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Stanford California. Stanford University Press.


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