Steely Blows and Silken Caresses

Panel: Conflict of Practice

Friday 27th March, 3pm

Bailey Allen Hall, NUI Galway

My paper explores the tensions of liberation and subjugation that collect around a form of performance that I call martial dance theatre. I consider the careers of two predominantly male performance groups from marginalised communities: Torotoro, a Māori group from New Zealand (operating from 2000-2006); and Samudra, a group from Kerala’s lower-caste communities (still in operation). Their choreographies integrate local and globalised dance forms with their hereditary martial arts – tu taua and kalaripayattu respectively. I co-founded Torotoro, and served as Samudra’s collaborator- producer from 2005-2009. I have written extensively about both groups, in my doctoral dissertation and connected articles. Here, I revisit the aesthetic and socio-political tensions of Torotoro and Samudra’s work to explicitly examine the possibilities of their performance practices as vehicles for their pursuit of self-determination and cultural emancipation. Torotoro’s performances were created as an expression of resistance and redress, expressing an urban Maori identity in contrast to the dominant white-settler and rural native cultural currents of modern day New Zealand. Samudra’s performances pursue contemporary innovation from indigenous roots, countering values of upper-caste classicalism and a prioritising of Delhi-centric agendas over Dravidian customs. Torotoro and Samudra’s dancers address their audiences in ways that alternate between the harsh and combative and the yielding and inviting: they shift back and forth between aggressive martial actions that apparently present a challenge to their audience, and seductive dance movements that actively invite and welcome their gaze. Significantly, the groups have (of necessity) often performed their work before those very communities whose values have directly caused the disempowerment of their own. Might Torotoro and Samudra be seen to sell(out) sensational but ‘disarmed’ images of their cultures’ warrior heritages? How might comparable groups be seen to have differently navigated the politico-cultural risks of martial dance theatre?

Dr. Mark James Hamilton is Senior Lecturer in World Stages at Regent’s University London. He trained at the University of Birmingham, and with bharatanatyam dancer Priya Srikumar. His doctorate was awarded by the University of Canterbury (NZ). His thesis explored the interface of the martial arts and dance. His on-going research explores the possibility of transcultural principles for performance training and the tensions of intercultural performances practices. His teaching is a synthesis of the European practices of Rudolf Laban, Jerzy Grotowski and Roy Hart, with the hereditary and contemporary arts of the Māori people and the South Indian region of Kerala.


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