Since the late 1940s Australian audiences have been exposed to the highly stylised features of Indian dance, themes of Hindu mythology and the epic legends of the Ramayana and Mahabharata that are commonly expressed through dance. Over time they have also experienced the full gamut of Indian classical dance forms including Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, Chhau and Mohiniattam.
Although Indian dance is known as the oldest classical dance tradition in the world, centuries of foreign rule in India had seen it almost completely neglected. The impetus of the Indian independence movement reignited interest in traditional art forms and brought about a renaissance of Indian dance during the 1930s.
Australian dancer Louise Lightfoot played a critical role in the revival of the Kathakali and Manipuri dance forms in and outside of India. She first visited India in 1938 and spent considerable time there studying dance. She organised tours by the Kathakali dancer Ananda Shivaram throughout India and also to Australia in 1947 and 1974. Billed as the first Indian dancer to visit Australia, Shivaram's performances were extremely influential, as were the classes he conducted with local dancers. Lightfoot also staged her own Indian inspired productions in Australia and was responsible for the Australian tour of a Manipuri troupe in 1957.
The interest sparked by Shivaram saw Australian tours by Indian dancers such as Tilakavati (1958), Indrani (1959), Bhaskar (1962), Chitrasena Ballet (1963 and 1972) and Kalakshetra (1966). A Government of India cultural delegation titled Indian Song and Dance Theatre also toured in 1962. Indian dancer Jyotikana Ray was also active in Australia during this time with productions titled Mystic Dances of India (1955) and Light of Asia (1957) involving dancers from the Bodenwieser company.
Indian dance artists have continued to tour to Australia, including Kalakshetra dancers Balagopalam (1978), V. Gayatri (1982) and Krishnaveni Lakshmanan (1987). The Kathakali Kerala Kalamandalam tour in 1970 included performances in regional New South Wales while the famous Bharatanatyam dancer and film star Vyjanthimala performed in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney in 1975. Most remarkable was a tour by the 12 member Chhau troupe, Masked Dancers of Bengal in 1978, which included performances in Darwin, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine.
More recently Australian audiences have experienced performances by renowned Indian dancers such as Daksha Sheth (Kathak/Chhau), Mallika Sarabhai (Bharatanatyam), Sonal Mansingh (Bharatanatyam /Odissi), Birju Maharaj (Kathak) and the late Sanjukta Panigrahi (Odissi). As well as performing traditional dance, Daksha Sheth has choreographed contemporary works in collaboration with Perth musicians and dancers in the ongoing Gilgamesh project. Mallika Sarabhai has also created contemporary works to the music of Australian composers Roger Smalley, Cathie Travers and David Pye.
In the 1970s and 80s increased migration from Asia saw a number of professional Indian dancers settling in Australia as well as exponential growth in the number of Indian classical dance schools.
Melbourne based dancer Chandrabhanu studied Odissi and Bharatanatyam in India. He has taught hundreds of students through his Bharatalaya School of Indian Classical Dance and toured Australia with his Bharatam Dance Company, performing full scale traditional dance productions such as Devi: Goddess Absolute (1985) and Navagraha (1991); and Indian inspired contemporary works including Medea (1992) and Electra (1996). Known for their exactness of technique, original choreography and the richness of their sets and costuming, Bharatam have been pioneers in their field, exerting considerable influence over Indian dancers in Australia.
Ramli Ibrahim is a unique figure as he studied ballet, modern dance and Indian classical dance. After working with the West Australian Ballet he received a scholarship with the Australian Ballet School and subsequently joined Sydney Dance Company. A meeting with Chandrabhanu inspired him to learn Indian dance and after study in India he performed Bharatanatyam and Odissi in Sydney and Melbourne under the name Ramachandra. He also performed his own choreography Adorations based on the guru-shishya (teacher/student) relationship. Ibrahim returned to Malaysia in 1982 and founded the acclaimed Sutra Dance Theatre.
Padma Menon trained in Kuchipudi in India and performed widely before settling in Canberra in 1988. She began performing traditional Kuchipudi works in Australia and later created works with local contemporary dancers such as Meryl Tankard. Menon established Kailash Dance Company in 1992 incorporating a school with a designed syllabus and teacher training and mounted productions such as Relations and Ramayana: a mother speaks. Later known as Padma Menon Dance Theatre her company staged The Woman is for Burning in 1997, commentating on the practice of sati or widow immolation.
Anandavalli Sivanathan moved to Sydney in 1985 after extensive training in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi in India. She established herself as a solo performer and started the Lingalayam Dance Academy in 1987. Working within a traditional framework she and her students staged productions such as Shakthi (1991), Dasavatharam (1993) and A Vision of India (1995). In 1996 she formed Lingalayam Dance Company performing works including Shiva Sthuthi (1996), The Divine Flautist (1997) and Earth and Fire (2003). The company's most recent production is Tempest (2004), a collaboration with famed Indian contemporary dancer, Astad Deboo.
Tara Rajkumar is an exponent of Kathakali and Mohinniattam. She founded the National Academy of Indian Dance (now Akademi: South Asian Dance) in London in 1979. After migrating to Australia she conducted numerous solo performances and established the Natya Sudha Dance Company in Melbourne. In 1997 she produced the work Temple Dreaming, which interweaves her own story with that of Louise Lightfoot.
Temple of Fine Arts was founded in Perth in 1981. Artistic directors Sukhi Shetty Krishnan and Sarasa Krishnan trained in Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak as well as venturing into ballet and contemporary dance. The company has regular performances in Perth but is most well known for their huge productions with incredible sets and casts of fifty to one hundred dancers. To date they have staged sixteen such productions including Odissi Odyssey (1990), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1994), Shakuntala (1998) and Vishwa Vinayaka (2002).
Rakini Devi studied Bharatanatyam and Odissi in India. She continued her studies in Bharatanatyam from the Kalaivani School of Indian Classical Dance in Perth. From 1986 to 1990 she was a guest artist with Chandrabhanu's Bharatam Dance Company. The formation of her own group The Atman Project and later Kalika Dance Company saw the creation of works including Apsaras (1992), Kali Digambari (1995) and Yantra & Devadasis (1997), which incorporated text, live experimental music, film and her own visual art. Her solo productions include The Virtual Goddess (1998) and Mindimi (1999). Relocation to Sydney in 2001 has seen a continuation of her iconoclastic style of Indian influenced contemporary dance often with themes of women in society.
The Odissi Dance Company was founded in Sydney in 1992 by Nirmal Jena and Chitrita Mukerjee. Nirmal Jena is the son of Surendra Nath Jena, a recognised expert in the ancient Odissi dance form.
These professional artists all have common threads running through their careers. They have all received training from the great masters of India such as Adyar K. Lakshman, Vempati Chinna Satyam, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Birju Maharaj and Deba Prasad Das, ensuring a continuation of technique and style and an understanding grounded in a classical tradition. Their imagination along with the influence of contemporary dance has led to experimentation and the emergence of a fusion of styles. They teach and employ dancers from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds and many have toured their work back to India with critical acclaim. Each has been effective in articulating their art form, making Indian dance more accessible to western audiences. They convey stories of traditional mythology with a fresh, questioning perspective or explore socio-political themes such as cross-cultural relations and the status of women.
Today Indian dance in Australia is represented by numerous professional dance artists and companies, dance schools, amateur community groups and the increasing mainstream popularity of Bhangra and Bollywood. Dialogue between Indian dance artists and their contemporaries has meant the art form has not stagnated. These interactions continue to contribute to the development of contemporary dance in Australia.
Purushottama Bilimoria, 'Traditions and transition in South Asia performing arts in multicultural Australia', in Sneja Gunew and Fazal Rizvi (general ed.), Culture, difference and the arts (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1994); Purushottama Bilimoria, 'Indian dance', in John Whiteoak and Aline Scott-Maxwell (general ed.), Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia (Sydney: Currency House in association with Currency Press, 2003), p. 330.
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The Margaret Walker Dance Archives are professional and personal papers documenting Walker's involvement with and interest in a variety of Australian and international dance organisations and companies. The material includes administrative records, correspondence, newsletters, diaries, theatre programs, subject and biographical files, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, dance periodicals and photographs. Companies and organisations represented in the collection include the Borovansky Ballet, Ballets Russes, Entr'acte Theatre, Australian Dance Theatre, Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Ballet Australia, Ballet Victoria, Berioska Dance Company of Russia, Canberra Dance Theatre, Dance Works, Kolobok Dance Company, One Extra Dance, Unity Dance Group, Australian Association for Dance Education (now Ausdance), Kala Bharti School of Indian Dance, and Walker's own groups Dance Concert and the Margaret Walker Folk Dance Centre. Individuals represented in the collection include Deanna Blacher, Margaret Barr, Krishnan Nair, Beth Dean, Bhagwan Das Verma, and Ronne Arnold. Walker also maintained files on dance performances from difference countries, including Indian dance. Further information relating to the scope and content, including digital content, of the papers can be found at Margaret Walker Dance Archives. Some material from the Margaret Walker Dance Archives features in 'Every Picture Tells a Story', National Library of Australia News, December 2000.
This extensive collection contains correspondence, play scripts, scores and lyrics, publicity material, magazines, programs, financial records, administrative files, newspaper cuttings, tape recordings, production files, and photographs. Among the many dance companies and organisations documented are: the Australian Ballet; Australian Ballet Foundation; Australian Ballet School; Aboriginal Dance Company; J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd.; West Australian Ballet; Australian Dance Theatre; Ballet Victoria; Dance Company (N.S.W.); Sydney City Ballet; Queensland Ballet; Gopi Krishna’s Dancing Ballet Troupe; Ballet Folklorico of Mexico; Dance Theatre of Harlem; Eleo Pomare Dance Company; Merce Cunningham and Dance Company; National Dance Theatre of Jamaica; Paul Taylor Dance Company; Zorba Song and Dance Company; Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre; Ballet Rambert; Bat-Dor Dance Company; Batsheva Dance Company; Chhau Masked Dancers of Bengal; Polish Mime Ballet Theatre; Kathakali Dance Troupe; Ballet Folklorique Yougoslave Branco Kromanovic; Kolo Dancing Ensemble; Claude Bessy and Attilo Labis; Bolshoi Ballet; the Chitrasena Ballet; and the Tasmanian Ballet. Further information relating to the scope and content of the papers can be found at MS 5908 - Records of Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust.
A small collection of programs for the Chandrabhanu Bharatalaya Academy, the Chandrabhanu Bharatalaya Company of Classical Indian Temple Dance, and the Bharatam Dance Company at the Parade Theatre, NIDA in 1990.
A small collection of press articles documenting Chandrabhanu's career. Included is a review of Chandrabhanu's work Odissi (1986).
A selection of press articles from Australian newspapers relating to Menon's career, including articles relating to receiving the 1994 Canberra Times Artist of the Year Award, teaching, and the kuchipudi form of classical Indian dance.
A review of an Indian dance performance given by Tara Rajkumar in Sydney in 1984.
A small collection of programs relating to Sydney based Indian dancer Anandavalli and her Lingalayam Dance Company. Includes a program of a concert given in London.
A small collection of programs relating to Bharatam Dance Company productions, including Milarepa (1987), Electra (1996), Navagraha (1997), Old Wives? Tales (1997), and Alice (1999).
This collection of programs and flyers covers the Chitrasena Ballet's 1963 and 1972 Australian tours. The Company initially toured to Australia under the auspices of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1963, later returning with the support of the Arts Council of Australia and the Ceylon Tea Bureau in 1972.
A collection of two programs for performances by Indrani at the National Theatre, Melbourne, and Rialto Theatre, Brisbane.
This small collection includes a brochure for the Kala Bharti School of Indian Dance and a flyer for a performance by the Kala Bharti Dancers Festival at the Sydney Opera House Recording Hall for the Festival of Indian Dance and Music at Carnivale '85.
A small collection including flyers for dance classes, and for a performance by Jayaletchimi Raman and students of the Kalaivani School of Indian Classical Arts at Perth Town Hall, May 1984.
A small collection of programs from the 1966 Australian tour by a troupe of dancers from the Kalakshetra school in Madras, India.
One program for a performance by Krishnaveni Lakshanan at the Seymour Centre, Sydney in May 1987.
A small selection of programs, flyers and associated ephemera relating to Padma Menon Dance Theatre productions of In Praise, Ramayana: a Mother Speaks (1995), Relations (1996), Layla: Women who Dare (1996-1997), and Padma '97 (1997).
A small collection of flyers for the Sydney and Melbourne performances of Adorations. Ramli Ibrahim also performed under the name Ramachandra, and a seperate file under that title, includes a flyer for Orissi: classical Indian solo recital, performed at the Australian Music Centre, in February 1981.
A collection of a program and flyer for Sonal Mansingh's 1982 Australian tour.
A small collection of programs from the 1962 Australian tour of The Indian Song and Dance Theatre, brought to Australia the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The Company featured dancer Yamini Krishnamurti.
A program from a 1958 performance by Indian dancer Tilakavati in Melbourne.
A small collection comprising programs from the 1975 Australian tour of Indian Bharatanatyam dancer Vyjanthimala (Vyjayanthimala) and her troupe.