Moving into and Beyond Form
: Sankalpam, Bharata Natyam and the UK Dance Landscape

  • Debbie Fionn Barr

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This study investigates how a migrated dance form, Bharata Natyam, is nurtured in an adopted locale, the UK dance landscape and is examined through the prism of one UK-based Bharata Natyam company, Sankalpam.

    The study assesses the methods applied by Sankalpam to sustain and maintain the migrated dance discipline, despite its dislocation from many fundamental elements which nourish the practice and support the form in India. These are evident in the fabric of Indian culture and might include: literature, architecture, philosophy and art as well as dance training. This study is concerned therefore with what happens when you migrate a classical Indian dance form and the social and cultural structures that once supported the form are no longer easily accessible. By simply moving the classical form to a new locality a conventional dance practice can become specialist and yet can be simultaneously marginalised.

    I analyse Sankalpam’s working methods to examine the extent to which the company sustains the Bharata Natyam form in the adopted locale and I ask, how is existing knowledge processed in different contexts? I seek to argue that Sankalpam reconsiders Bharata Natyam through what I refer to are local and global ‘cultural knowledge systems’. In so doing, I propose that the company distils knowledge of the form. I describe this methodology as ‘the dialectic’ and I assess the impact of the dialectic on Sankalpam’s understanding of Bharata Natyam in this study.

    The study employs a range of qualitative methods, including participant observation, interview, questionnaire, immersive-participation, as well as desk-based and archival research. By applying a range of methods, I reveal how Sankalpam circumnavigates the postcolonial narratives which permeate the UK dance landscape (those that generalise migrated forms under umbrella terms of reference).

    Furthermore, I consider how Sankalpam’s creative process is underpinned by an Indian epistemology. This situates the Bharata Natyam form at the centre of the company’s investigation, underscored by Indian world-view thinking, to which other knowledge systems relate, and with which they intersect. I argue that by confronting hegemonic interpretations of migrated cultural dance forms which flatten the specificities of practices under universalised assumptions, Sankalpam plays an important role in challenging the UK dance landscape to find new ways to nurture the individual within the universal and the particular within the global. The broader implications of the study, particularly how it might illuminate the postcolonial discourse that has historically and continues to pervade South Asian dance in the UK, are therefore also addressed.
    Date of AwardJul 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorSarah Whatley (Supervisor), Emma Meehan (Supervisor) & Sara Reed (Supervisor)

    Cite this