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  • Bhāmākalāpam beyond the Village: Transgressing Norms of Gender and Sexuality in Urban and Transnational Kuchipudi Dance

    Harshita Mruthinti Kamath

    Chapter from the book: Kamath, H. 2019. Impersonations: The Artifice of Brahmin Masculinity in South Indian Dance.


    In his rechoreographed version of Bhāmākalāpam (c. 1970s), Chennai-based Kuchipudi guru Vempati Chinna Satyam entirely transformed the gender composition of the dance drama by recasting the roles of Satyabhama and Krishna to be enacted by female dancers and by changing Madhavi to a gender-variant character enacted by a male performer. Focusing on Vempati Chinna Satyam’s Bhāmākalāpam staged in the cities of Chennai and Atlanta, this chapter traces the transformation across a number of distinct performative and lived spaces: village to urban and transnational, male to female, brahmin to non-brahmin, normative to queer. The chapter juxtaposes Chinna Satyam’s Bhāmākalāpam, which includes both female and male performers from mixed caste backgrounds, alongside the traditional version of Bhāmākalāpam presented in the village, in which all performers are hereditary brahmin men. Drawing on queer of color theory, including the works of Gayatri Gopinath and E. Patrick Johnson, the chapter interprets Chinna Satyam’s Bhāmākalāpam as an expression of “resistant vernacular performance” that exposes the heteronormative anxieties undergirding Kuchipudi village life. By dislodging impersonation from the purview of the brahmin male body, Chinna Satyam’s Bhāmākalāpam engenders the capaciousness of vēṣam, a practice that holds the power to simultaneously subvert and resignify hegemonic norms.

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    Kamath, H. 2019. Bhāmākalāpam beyond the Village: Transgressing Norms of Gender and Sexuality in Urban and Transnational Kuchipudi Dance. In: Kamath, H, Impersonations. California: University of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/luminos.72.e

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    Published on June 4, 2019