Rimli Bhattacharya, The Dancing Poet : Rabindranath Tagore and Choreographies of Participation
With a background in comparative studies, performance and gender studies, primary education pedagogy, and translation (Bengali to English), The Dancing Poet: Rabindranath Tagore and Choreographies of Participation emerges as a confluence of these strands of Rimli Bhattacharya's expertise. The author has shaped the narrative with relatively obscure documents, memoirs, anecdotes, and statistical details. With her adeptness in translation, she has skillfully excavated that which lays dormant
... the printed lines. This has lent new vigor to yet another narrative on Tagore and his times, though Tagore's colossal written opus is a territory well documented, with one of the most recent contributions being Rabindranath Tagore's Drama in the Perspective of Indian Theatre, edited by Mala Renganathan and Arnab Bhattacharya in 2020. Bhattacharya's maiden work in 1997, on Tagore as script consultant for a film based on his last novel Four Chapters (cār adhyāẏ), was followed by numerous research papers. The Dancing Poet emerges as a narrative on Tagore's struggles through his days as estate manager to the guiding guru of Shantiniketan, his open-air schools, as well as his fundraising performances. Bhattacharya foregrounds his attempt to institutionalize the arts by bringing them into formal training at Shantiniketan and taking them out from the folds of hereditary performances. She has also traced the history of dance and its changing contours and spaces, especially woman's entry into theaters and public spaces through these performances. Needless to say that in addition to education pedagogy, performance, and woman dancers, the focus of this work has been choreographed through the dancing poet himself, Tagore. Spaced out over eight chapters, the author begins in a synoptic way with the themes of the successive chapters and the queries she has in relation to them in chapter 1, titled "The Shape of the Questions." In chapter 2, "Movement and Movements," the author looks into the macro-and micro-cultural movements developing amid mass mobilization of man and machines in the interwar period. She has analyzed within a comparative framework the creation of new national cultures in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and the so-called New Israel through arts and performance, along with the micro-movement at Shantiniketan. There Tagore was experimenting with the new pedagogy of body and mind and also creating brati bālak (a scouts-like organization with local rural boys at Sriniketan), which emphasized nurture (śrī) and strength (bal). Bhattacharya compares the ways in which the narrative conducive to the ruling elite was being developed in new cultures around Europe and Russia with technological support like films, whereas in India, a colonized territory, cultural awakening necessitated an indigenous understanding of the range and diversity of arts and crafts alongside the emergence of hegemonic models of cultural nationalism. The narrative on women and Shantiniketan becomes more detailed in chapters 3 and 4. In "Cause Apart," chapter 3, the author looks at the entry of women into theaters and other public spaces, an important phenomenon of the times, which catalyzed an old debate related to women adopting the profession of dance and drama, hitherto open only to hereditary performing women, known as naṭīs (actresses). She also underscores the debates centered on the issue of women earning a livelihood through dance and the possibility of prostitutes taking up acting as a means of livelihood in those times.