Photo by Michael Slobodian
Hari Krishnan, Artistic Director of inDANCE, talks South Asian dance, cultural appropriation, collaboration, and Big Macs in this candid interview*.
DANCEWORKS: The title of the show is Holy Cow(s)! Can you tell us more about this compelling title?
HARI: In an oblique way, I’m a Holy Cow myself.
I am a brown, gay Singaporean by birth of Indian heritage; a Canadian citizen by choice for the last 26 years, and a professor in the US for the past 16. I research, practice, perform and teach several Indian and non-Indian dance styles. I am trying to ‘slaughter’ as many clichéd, packaged, commercialized “Holy Cow(s)!” of South Asian dance, as possible.
The common stereotype in the West is that Indians do not consume beef because they worship the ‘sacred’ cow. The truth is I am a sporadic, pseudo, multi-faith Hindu who devours Big Macs, hence the title.
This work is a voyeuristic view of a fly-on-the-wall, in a confessional booth, in which my collaborators, dancers, and I work our way through holy-cow clichés of making and consuming culture as art. A pishy-caca of the ‘East meets West’ paradigm.
Last year, in New York, I caught a show by a prominent choreographer. During the pre-show talk there were comments regarding cultural appropriation. As one of few brown people present, I was livid that the audience applauded racist, orientalist remarks. The unsettling experience underscored my motivation for Holy Cow(s)!. I wanted to perform re-appropriating the misappropriated. A ‘tongues-in-many-cheeks’ response to (some) common tropes of the exoticized “Holy Cow(s)!” of South Asian dance:
Femme-fatale Kamasutra babes and their sexy eyes
Hyper-macho men and their virile moustaches
The red dot third-eye window into the soul
Secret mystical language of the hands
Tinkling bells of exotic lands
The stage is a temple for spiritual yoga dance
And crap of that ilk….
Welcome to an evening of holy cows and some bull!
DANCEWORSK: The work features a collaboration between yourself, Sean Curran, David Brick, and Jay Hirabayashi. How did you meet each of the artists and develop the ideas for this collaboration?
HARI: My collaborator Sean Curran is the artistic director of Seán Curran Company (NYC) and the Chair of the Department of Dance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. I first saw his work, ‘Symbolic Logic’ in 2001. I was charmed by Sean’s eccentric ‘messing-up’ of complex rhythms. I thought it was witty and naughty. In our working together, Sean and I used a percussive score, to spoof ideas of ‘commercial’ dance, à la Bollywood and Broadway.
Jay Hirabayashi is artistic director of Kokoro Dance (Vancouver). I found Jay’s finesse in the Butoh form riveting, when I first saw him perform in 1997. Since I practice a form where the body is always in a state of perfect beauty and symmetry, which, at this point in my life, I find limiting and two-dimensional, I was lured to the stark, minimal simplicity of Butoh. Through collaborating with Jay, I discovered the gift of accepting the body-in-distress as beautiful. Imbalance, chaos and deformity are also languages to dance through.
David Brick is the co-artistic director of Headlong Dance Theater (Philadelphia) and teaches at Bryn Mawr College. He was my mentor at The Yard (Martha’s Vineyard) when I was awarded the Bessie Schoenberg Choreographic Residency in 2013. Having watched HDT’s Hotel Pool (2004) and More (2009), distilled for me David’s ethos of portraying the “body as an active manifestation of culture” and his belief in the existence of a “porous boundary between the ordinary and performance worlds”. David and I worked on internalizing that same spirit as his contribution to Holy Cow(s)!.
Working with three master craftsmen in disparate idioms of dance-making, was a terrifying and transformative artistic experience, giving me the best of three new worlds.
Unfortunately, my recurring knee ligament injury has forced me (on doctor’s orders) to refrain from dancing for a while. Paul Charbonneau, Roney Lewis and the entire company will perform ‘appropriated’ adapted versions of Sean Curran, David Brick, and Jay Hirabayashi’s solos.
Photo credits (first image) Michael Slobodian and (second and third image) Miles Brokenshire.
*This interview has been edited and condensed.