TQW Magazin
Janhavi Dhamankar on TARAB by Ulduz Ahmadzadeh / ATASH عطش contemporary dance company

Movement for “Women, life, freedom!”


Movement for “Women, life, freedom!”

In my ignorance, it sounds so close to tadap (Hindi for yearning, longing).

Tarab. “When a body is gripped by the music, and physical sensation is enhanced. [… U]nexplored and, in some places, forbidden movement material and odd rhythmic patterns of Pre-Islamic, Middle Eastern cultural heritage. Dance and music material that has undergone multiple forms of Euro-colonial and Islamic translations, in which women, from being the primary holders, got either reduced to sexualised oriental entertainer-dancers or [were] forbidden from practising them altogether.” That’s what the evening programme tells me.

Tarab. My first ever contemporary dance performance experience. Also, the first time I witness a performance from a seat on the stage. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to contemporary dance.

Tarab. A celebration of rhythm and movement. An embodied and artistic approach. A kind of entrancing field created by the accompanying lights, fog, costumes, tassels to lure the audience into awakening their senses…and perhaps even transcend them. My Indian dance background prompts me to grasp this as a kind of Daivi Siddhi – a speechless state experienced by the audience, a feeling of oneness with the divine, a feat that only a few dance maestros can accomplish. But instead of moving away from the body or treating it like a lesser twin of the intellectual process (which is the underpinning philosophy of Indian classical dance), I enjoy being rooted in my sensual experience, remaining true to the ongoing embodied rendition, allowing myself a space and time to feel these foreign yet somehow familiar movements.

Tarab. My first explicit experience of kinaesthetic empathy. Reading about it in the scope of my own research, I have found it inadequate to base empathy on mirror neurons. But Tarab offers me a kinaesthetic awareness I’ve never felt before: I feel drawn into the collective breathing at the start and find myself breathless when it turns laborious, into a ritual-like trance, then frenzy. It keeps me aesthetised (as the opposite of anaesthetised, a sense adopted from Shelley Sacks) until the concluding hail shower. 75 minutes have never felt so sens(e)ational!

Tarab. Such a rich vocabulary of movement. Again, I start to find parallels with the movement vocabulary I know: the Voguing passages remind me of the sculptural poses in Odissi, folk flavours with shoulder movements evoke the abandon of Bhangda, vigorous kicks and twirls echo the martial art vocabulary of Chhau. But I try not to categorise these movements and to relish their original flavour with the added layer rendered by the percussionist Mohammad Reza Mortazavi.

Tarab. Woven together by the percussion. I wonder if one of the dancers engages in subtle eye-contact communication with the musician.

I sense 6 beats – Dhuum chuk chuk, dhuum chuk chuk
and then 7 – Ta ki ta, ta ka, di mi

The various drums lend distinct flavours to the scenes: some folk – portraying a sense of synchrony as in a community; some tribal – accompanied by vocalisations by the dancers; and some like thunderous lightning – embodied by magnificent swirls and twirls by the dancers.

Tarab. A “glocal dialogue on feminism”. Where are these movements coming from? What is the ethos of each movement? What went into refining each movement phrase, each gesture in the cultural practice that makes it so beautiful! I am hungry for more…more information, more movement. I have to stop myself from getting up and dancing the movement myself.

Tarab. A mesmerising and heightened sensation of being drenched in a beautiful calm.


Janhavi Dhamankar is an Indian classical dance (Odissi) performer, teacher, an artistic researcher, and a social sculpture practitioner. She designs and offers “empathy practices” in her current doctoral research to explore how we can treat social interaction itself as an artwork to re-imagine “mainstream” society. She teaches Odissi, folk and Bollywood dance in Vienna, has taught philosophy (including aesthetics and ethics) in India and conducts movement workshops in India and Europe. janhavidhamankar.com, @kunst_janhavi