Subversive Gestures consists of a series of interconnected explorations on queerness and abhinaya by Post Natyam Collective members Shyamala Moorty, Cynthia Ling Lee, and Sandra Chatterjee. It includes performance and scholarly research, process and product, in-person and long-distance collaboration.
29 Subversive Gestures (August 2012)
The starting point for Subversive Gestures was a solo directed by Shyamala Moorty and performed by Cynthia Ling Lee entitled 29 Subversive Gestures. 29 Subversive Gestures is a serio-comic tribute to Joe Goode’s iconic 29 Effeminate Gestures (1987). The work re-contextualizes the original piece’s investigations of the queer, gendered, dancing body for Indian classical dance. Music composed by Ravindra Deo and performed by Ravindra Deo (tabla) and Devon Nelson (clarinet).
Subversive Gestures Feedback Loop (November 2012- March 2013)
For the Subversive Gestures Feedback Loop, we engaged in creative and theoretical research on performing gender non-conformity and queerness in contemporary South Asian dance, exploding and moving beyond the choreographic material of 29 Subversive Gestures. With Sandra acting as a theoretical dramaturge, Shyamala as director, and Cynthia as performer, we read South Asian and Euro-American theory on gender performance and developed written and choreographic responses to the readings. As such, we set up a feedback loop whereby in-process choreography was analyzed while theoretical engagement in turn affected choreography.
One result of the Subversive Gestures Feedback Loop was a new performance work, rapture/rupture. In rapture/rupture, the intimate and bittersweet rapture of poetic love-in-separation (viraha) is reinterpreted through cultural and gendered difference using contemporary abhinaya (emotional expression). Directed by Shyamala Moorty, written and performed by Cynthia Ling Lee, music by Ravindra Deo.
“our love was not enough”: queering desire, gender, and cultural belonging in contemporary abhinaya (2017)
Another work that emerged from our Subversive Gestures explorations was a scholarly paper, co-written by Sandra and Cynthia, that theorizes contemporary South Asian performances of queerness. Analyzing particular examples from our process, the paper considers multiple levels of queering — queering desire, gender, and cultural belonging — using an intersectional approach that mobilizes Sanskrit aesthetic concepts alongside Euro-American critical theories.
“This essay recounts and analyzes the Post Natyam Collective’s process of creating the contemporary abhinaya work, rapture/rupture. Working in a feedback loop between theory and practice, we researched ways to denaturalize Indian classical kathak’s script of idealized femininity to facilitate fluid, diverse possibilities for performing gender and cultural belonging in South Asian aesthetic contexts. rapture/rupture produces a dancing subject whose ethnic mismatch, hybrid movement vocabulary, gender nonconformity, and same-sex love across cultural difference exceed the boundaries of a kathak discourse that calls for purist notions of culture, race, nation, religion, and femininity. In theoretically analyzing how gender, cultural belonging, and desire are conceptualized through abhinaya, postmodern dance, US identity politics, and poststructuralist critiques of identity, we argue that embracing lack — being “not enough” — is a mode of exceeding dominant boundaries that enables a multilayered, intersectional dance-making practice that queers gender, queers cultural belonging, and embodies queer female desire.”
Chatterjee, Sandra and Cynthia Ling Lee. 2017. “’Our Love Was Not Enough’: Queering Gender, Cultural Belonging, and Desire in Contemporary Abhinaya.” In Meanings and Makings of Queer Dance, ed. Clare Croft. New York: Oxford University Press, 45-65.