Contemporary Art as a Performing Art in Pakistan

Written By: Tansheet Raza

While watching the emotionally charged classical contemporary items in different dance festivals one wonders who are the performers that display the imaginative expressions, are fully choreographed and inspired by the voice of esteemed writers like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and on a Kafi by Bulleh Shah or Rumi and are recognized and showered with international awards. These performers of some classical pieces communicating without directly speaking to a wide audience are neither Americans nor English. They belong to Pakistan.

Dance has been an important element of most cultures from their earliest times as it serves social, spiritual, artistic, and emotional functions. While several other art forms like music, poetry and painting can be traced through human history through artifacts, dance being more complex is less easily defined. From early traditions that form the basis of today’s classical dance, to the rich diversity of ethnic and tribal movements, Pakistan shares the region’s dance expressions, in folk and classical traditions. Like orally narrated stories rely on the impact created by the vocabulary used, dance makes an impact through the movements made. Some of the Pakistani artists who are appearing on different kinds of stages and are being widely acknowledged include Naheed Siddiqi, Sheema Kirmani, an Odissi dance form performer, Tehreema Mitha, Bharatanatyam performer and Nighat Chaudhry specializing in Kathak form. They are modernizing this art and taking it to a new level. They have represented themselves as educated, respectable women who have excelled in this field and have made their mark internationally. As notable as these dancers' persistence is, their creativity in the field of choreography is exceptional. Not contented to repeat the traditional compositions imparted by their teachers (ustads), they embrace the transcripts of outspoken humanists and thinkers within the framework of their distinct styles.

When Naheed Siddiqi poises herself for Kathak it is as if she transcends reality, forgets her existence and moves onto a fenceless plane free of worldly restrictions releasing all her inhibitions. She is left only with one language and one expression, that is, the dance. She is also the holder of Pride of Performance (1994), Recipient of the Solidarity of Pakistan Award, Pakistan National Council for the Arts Critical Appreciation Award and Nigar Award for Excellence in Performing Arts.

She has built a strong reputation internationally and was also showered with awards like the prestigious Time Out (1990) and the Dance Umbrella (1991). Siddiqui also wants to create an awareness of our real culture and heritage with its harmony and peace through teaching dance in the French Cultural Center Lahore.

Performers like Tehreem Mitha are determined to establish a global name for this art. She was recently commissioned to perform at the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center, and The Washington Post raves that Mitha “crosses borders as easily as the rest of us cross streets”. In her contemporary works, Mitha explores notions of selfhood, death, and loss underscored by modernist poetic text. She finds herself compelled by her audiences and her own understanding of the art to integrate new themes and ideas appropriate to the cultural situation of Pakistan.

Sheema kirmani another well known personality, acknowledged for her refined sensibility and subtlety, and for her perfection in stagecraft and presentation, has contributed to her chosen art to form a unique flavor. She has performed at many esteemed festivals and conferences in Pakistan and abroad in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, Egypt, USA, Netherlands and Germany.

Kirmani has done a lot of research and written about dance as part of our culture having its roots in the Indus Valley civilization. This aspect of her work has been concluded in two major works, a classical ballet called "The Song of Mohenjodaro” stating how dance was and is a part of our cultural heritage; and a modern ballet entitled "Indus and Europa", which is an attempt at evolving a unique style of her own

Contemporary dancers have begun to reassert their presence in the cultural arena. They are making their country proud by representing their art globally and being recognized. While much work remains to restore dance in Pakistan to the status of a flourishing art, the initial steps have been taken, and one hopes there will be many more in rapid succession bringing recognition to Pakistan.

3 Response to "Contemporary Art as a Performing Art in Pakistan"

  1. Anonymous May 18, 2010 at 6:02 AM
    Performing Art is perhaps the richest form of art we have in Pakistan and yet it continues to be one of the rarest form of art that people take up and most underrated in terms of its contribution to our society.
  2. Anonymous May 18, 2010 at 6:44 AM
    I found this article very well rounded and informative.All these women have found solace in expressing their self through dance.As a nation we are cold emotionally.Here girls are taught not to express themselves emotionally and male dancers are mocked and ridiculed just because they are in touch with their feminine side.

    Expression in any form is personal to each individual.
    I call such dancing "Soul Dance"
    Men need to get in touch with their feminine side too.
  3. Anonymous May 18, 2010 at 8:10 AM
    Yes indeed dancing and performing art is a very integral part of our culture and heritage.These performers should be praised and appreciated for their passion and contribution to art and not be looked down upon.
    A very well written article.

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