Front Row At The Bench India Conference

Playwright, theatre director, and performer Swar Thounaojam looks at the optics around women choreographers in contemporary dance through Centre Stage performances and a conference at the Biennial 2017

The BENCH India was part of the Conversations @AIB2017 segment of the Biennial’s ten-day programming. The conference’s aim was “to address pressing issues and explore new models of creation; linking concepts, theory, and the practice of movements arts” by “bringing together theorists, artists and producers”. The BENCH India positions itself as conference that “sets out to examine the role women have played and can further play in the evolution of Contemporary Dance in the 21st century, the challenges they face, and how these challenges can be overcome”. 

The conference was divided into two parts, the first consisted of three discursive panels: “Gender and the Performing Arts”, “Your Voice, Your Responsibility”, and “Behind the Scenes”. The second half was a showcase by five young, Indian women choreographers, selected as part of the Outlands Bench programme, pitching ideas to be selected for commissions by 2Faced Dance Company—two new works will tour the UK in Autumn 2017. 

In her keynote address, Tamsin Fitzgerald—the founder of the 2Faced Dance Company and The BENCH—shared her vision for women in contemporary dance. She spoke passionately about The BENCH as an attempt to bring the works of women choreographers to the fore and have them lead the movement arts. 

As the conference was framed within the premise of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017, it struck me as pertinent to contextualise Tamsin’s advocacy of women choreographers and verify the representation of women choreographers at this edition of the Biennial. 

The tally is as follows:

Women choreographers on Centre Stage

Centre Stage features the performances of international dance companies. In this edition there were performances from South Korea, South Africa, France, India, Spain, Poland, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Canada, and Switzerland.

Total choreographers 16
Women choreographers 5

31% representation of women choreographers

Women choreographers at Platform Plus

Platform Plus was a new addition to the Biennial’s programming. It presented works by Indian artists who have carved a niche for their work and have emerged as important players in the contemporary movement arts.

Total choreographers 2
Women choreographers 1

50% representation of women choreographers

Women choreographers at Platform 17

Platform 17 presented artists from South Asia who have extended the boundaries of their craft, taken risks in their artistic practice, and portrayed fluency of thought and movements in their creations.

Total choreographers 6
Women choreographers 3

50% representation of women choreographers

Women choreographers at the FACETS Choreography Residency

FACETS offers emerging choreographers interdisciplinary approaches towards creating original works or extending already explored ideas.

Total choreographers 7
Women choreographers 3

43% representation of women choreographers

Based on this tally, the Centre Stage performed quite poorly in representing women choreographers. These statistics seem to mirror an observation raised at the conference that there seems to be an absence of women in leadership positions in all fields, including the science and the arts. Since the Centre Stage showcases leading choreographers working internationally, the abysmal number of women choreographers in its programming underscores that the world of movement arts is skewed when it comes to women leading from the front.

At the panel titled “Gender and the Performing Arts”, I was alarmed by the way the terms of gender and cisgender (mainly heterosexual) women were interchangeably used, a trend that continued through the whole conference. The conference didn’t seem to ask itself questions like: What does it mean to have a panel titled “Gender and the Performing Art”? Does it mean looking at the history, politics, and representation of cisgender, transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming identities in the performing arts? Or does it simply mean women (I hope of all gender identities) in the performing arts? There seemed to be no clear brief, which made it very difficult to gauge the entry point(s) the panellists chose to take within the current maelstrom of gender identity politics and discourses. 

Across the three panels, two panelists—Dr. Anita Cherian and Ranjana Dave—gave us triggers worth pondering. Anita spoke on the dance community’s need to bring questions of caste into discussions of the movement arts in India and on the way men play a determining role in the movements that women perform. She reminded us that to think of dance as movement is to think about it politically—the ways in which movement gets implicated into narratives of slavery, colonialism, and nationalism. Ranjana spoke reflexively on the importance of language in reinventing contexts, the privileges involved in mastering this language, and that the dance ecology demands fluent articulation of the purpose of one’s work. 

A question that came to me during the course of the conference was: Who is the target audience of The BENCH India? The brochure led me to believe that it was “aimed at programmers, venues, producers, commissioners, and artists from all areas of the arts sector in India”. But the actual audience at the conference was made up of a handful of dance diploma students (who seemed to have questions that could’ve been answered by a career counsellor) confused Bangalore-producers, and such. Perhaps this kind of under-organising can be expected from an inaugural event of this nature. Because THE BENCH India sounded like an interesting exploration on paper, it would be great if it could get its act together for future editions.

Swar Thounaojam is a playwright, theatre director, and performer. She was a participant in the 2011 and 2013 editions of the Writing on Dance Laboratory.

TABLE of Contents
Curtain Call:
After the Biennial

During the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017, within the Writing on Dance Laboratory, we had several conversations about dance—its making, its reception, its impact, its sensations, its politics. Watching every performance at the festival, and attending conferences, screenings, and other festival events, the Lab participants received a broad view of festival happenings. That holistic perspective and those many conversations are reflected in Ligament’s final issue on the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017. Through the each of the participants’ different experiences of different events, we are left with pertinent questions about dance that might be worth considering after the festival has ended, through all the dance we watch in days to come. Why do we watch dance? Why should we write on dance? Are there many ways to write? And when dance makes us feel something, anything, what questions do we ask of it?

— Poorna Swami, Editor

To Hunt Or Be Hunted: (W)Rite into a Legacy
Dayita Nereyeth

Dancer and writer Dayita Nereyeth broadly traces the choreographic legacy of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and her relationship with it

The Visibility of Edges
Ian Abbott

Dance writer and producer Ian Abbott considers the edges of touch, authenticity, and repetition in two performances

All The Pillars That Hold Up The Ceiling Resonate A Different Sound
Parvathi Ramanathan

Dance and writer Parvathi Ramanathan looks at the individual and the ensemble in contemporary dance practice

Front Row At The Bench India Conference

Swar Thounaojam

Playwright, theatre director, and performer Swar Thounaojam looks at the optics around women choreographers in contemporary dance through Centre Stage performances and a conference at the Biennial 2017

Rhythm in the Body, Rhythm of the Mind
Himalaya Gohel

Dance researcher and PhD student Himalaya Gohel examines two works to investigate our notions of melody, music, and movement in contemporary dance

ShowReel : While We Strive
Darshan Manakkal

Dancers Revé Terborg, Audrey Apers and Ivan Ugrin from The Netherlands presented While We Strive, choreographed by Arno Schuitemaker, on Day 8 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : This Is The Title
Darshan Manakkal

Finnish choreographer-performer Ima Iduozee presented This is the Title on Day 8 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Westward Ho!
Darshan Manakkal

Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company presented Westward Ho!, choreographed by Tero Saarinen, on Day 8 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Man in a Room
Darshan Manakkal

Finland’s Tero Saarinen presented Man In A Room on Day 8 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Conditions Of Carriage
Darshan Manakkal

Chennai-based choreographer Preethi Athreya and the Jumpers presented Conditions Of Carriage on the closing day of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Isshh(क)
Darshan Manakkal

Bangalore’s Attakkalari Repertory Company presented Isshh(क), choreographed by Swiss choreographer Nicole Seiler, on the closing day of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017


To pick up and run with a magazine that has had another life is never easy. There are those conflicting desires to find close continuity and to just scrap it all and start anew. Ligament 2016-17 reemerges from a half-way point. We want to build on the investigations and insights of the magazine’s past contributors and also find ways to say what they perhaps had wanted to say but could not, or forgot to, in that moment.

Ligament was founded to facilitate the articulation of an evolving language that encompasses the impulses of contemporary dance. The idea of “contemporary” is inherently bound to time, to a sense of history, rather multiple histories unfolding. In its 2016-17 iteration, we hope that Ligament can grapple with the idea of how dance might hold a place in-step with the patterns of active and forming histories, rather than remaining a canonised and pondered response to a bygone world. We’d like to embrace the immediacy of “contemporary”, and invite contributions from dancers, choreographers, arts practitioners, scholars, audience members, readers. In this way, we hope to reach for the intimacies, resistances, and fragilities that permeate the developing field of South Asian contemporary dance.

Articulating a medium as visceral, visual, and ephemeral as dance requires making connections to methods of thought and critique that lie outside evaluative language. So for Ligament 2016-17 we welcome, of course, the critical essay, but also audio, photographs, ekphrastic poems, interviews, and hybrid media of various kinds that might speak to us about dance, carefully and proximately. Like the anatomical connective tissue for which it is named, Ligament, we hope, can help us locate dance in tandem with the many bodies that produce and encapsulate it.

To those who find themselves here for the first time, welcome. And those whom we have met before, we are glad you are back.

—Poorna Swami, Editor

Get in touch with us at ligament@attakkalari.org