ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Illicit and the Excluded

Illicit Worlds of Indian Dance: Cultures of Exclusion by Anna Morcom (London: Hurst & Company), 2013; xii + 286, £ 16.99.

Anna Morcom’s Illicit Worlds of Indian Dance serves up an expansive understanding of the ideologies of the modern nation state that have excluded female performance communities and transgender performers from its more “legitimate” spaces. These legitimate spaces are the very spaces that have been sanctioned by the nation state apparatus, the bastion of liberal bourgeois values. Morcom’s argument is not entirely new, and there is plenty of scholarly work that suggests findings similar to hers, especially with regard to female and transgender performers. However, the strengths of Morcom’s work lie in her handling of ethnographic data, and a spirited appraisal and documentation of various unresolved struggles of performance communities to gain legitimacy in the modern Indian nation. Together, rather than simply a narrative of decline, hers is one of exclusion and invisibility. These various performance communities, she suggests, have not disappeared, but have been pushed outside the purview of respectable and visible society.

In her introduction, Morcom clearly states her overarching framework to which she faithfully adheres with new archival or ethnographic materials in each chapter. Owing to middle-class appropriations of India’s performance traditions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a “new chapter of the performing arts began” and “an underground, illicit, ‘other’ world of Indian performing arts began to form, unseen in media and official representations of Indian culture except in terms of ‘prostitution’ or ‘problems’” (p 12).

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