Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dancing the "Vostok" (Orient) in the Soviet Central Asian Courtyard

In my travels through Turkey, a fascinating item on the shelves in grocery stores in Istanbul caught my attention. It was "Hindustani Salami" ("Indian salami"?). It was salami seasoned with spices (with curry flavouring possibly included), and perhaps this was the "Hindustani" aspect. This was one among several products in grocery stores that had the label "Hindustani". This made me realize that there is an exoticizing of a further "orient" even as we go east, and that the "Orient" exists in relation. It also makes me think of how the historio-cultural construct of "the Orient" relates to India, and the complexities of this.

I was reminded of this recently, when watching videos of Malika Kalantarova performing dances of a further east.  Kalantarova was a beautiful dancer known for her musicality and knowledge of Central Asian dance forms. Born into a Bukharian Jewish family in Tajikistan in 1950, she became one of the most celebrated dancers of the USSR and Central Asia, before moving to New York in the early 1990s. She was best known for her specialization in Central Asian dance forms, and was given the title People's Artist of the USSR,

There are several archival films of her performing different dances of Central Asia throughout her Soviet career, and some of her performing dances of India. Here is a video:

I find this video interesting because there are some definite references to movement vocabularies from certain classical Indian dance styles. There are also certain distances from other aspects of the dance forms. Here is yet another one:

Malika Kalantarova had travelled widely during the course of her career, touring with her husband, Bukharian-Jewish doira player Ilyas Bukharov (who was awared title of Honoured Artist of Tajikistan). Did Kalantarova learn these dances or was inspired by local dances during her stay in India during her tours? The archival videos are not dated. Bios of her mention her being featured in a few Bollywood films in the 1970s.  Bollywood itself forms a fascinating locus of Orientalism, Occidentalism, and several other -isms, and I may revisit this idea itself in the near future. While I know of a few films during the 1960s and 70s which featured Russian actresses (these were Indo-Russian film collaborations), I could not find the ones which featured Kolantarova. On a somewhat tangential note, Kseniya Rabinkina, who acted in the film Mera Naam Joker (1970), revisited India in 2009 for the making of the film Chintuji, and worked alongside Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor after 40 years. Rabinkina, who plays a circus trapeze artist in Mera Naam Joker, had a career as a Bolshoi ballerina in Soviet Russia.

To me, Kalantarova's Indian dance performances are fascinating as both a cultural and artistic artifact, especially in the context of how "Orientalism" relates to India. Alfrid Bustanov, in Soviet Orientalism and the Creation of Central Asian Nations , states that the Soviet notion of Orient (Vostok) covered all Asian countries as well as northern Africa (xiii). Kalantarova, as a performer of Jewish origin traversing through the Soviet cultural and political landscape, is definitely an interesting performer to study in the context of this.


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