Beyond Bollywood: 2000 Years of Dance in Art

This Devotion part of the exhibit aims to reflect dance as a means of reunification, bridging together opposites, transcending dualities and achieving oneness.

Transcending all differences among humans is one common theme: dance. Whether casual, performance art or worship, dancing is one thing we all have in common.

The Cincinnati Art Museum recently opened “Beyond Bollywood: 2000 Years of Dance in Art”, an exploration of dance and art throughout a history spanning South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Himalayan region.

Viewers are instantly immersed into the exhibit upon arrival as they are faced with three TV screens reflecting three modern-day youths dressed in tokens from their own culture, dancing to the Bollywood music that echoes around the exhibit. Museum-goers are transported back in time as they walk behind the screens and into the rest of the curation.

The exhibition consists of 121 artworks of all mediums – video, photography, sculptures, paintings and more. The experience is divided into five categories: destruction and creation, devotion, subjugation, glorification and, ultimately, celebration.

The first of the categories, destruction and creation, explores the relationship between the usage of dance as a worshipping practice in ancient cultures and how those same messages have bridged into our modern world. A poster of an ancient Buddha deity performing a ritualistic dance is framed beside a magazine cover of former President Barack Obama mimicking the same pose – his various arms outstretched from his body, all holding something different, representing the dance he must do to balance all of the responsibilities in his life.

As viewers continue to walk on, they enter the devotion portion of the exhibit. This part of the exhibit aims to reflect dance as a means of reunification, bridging together opposites, transcending dualities and achieving oneness. The main artwork in this section is a massive piece of cotton decorated with watercolors, gold and silver. Depicted on the piece is the Hindu God Krishna dancing with the women of the cowherd village. The group is performing a dance called the Rasmandala, which represents the connection between the earthly and the divine.

The exhibit then leads into the subjugation section. The pieces curated for this section all reflect how the power of dance can be used to overcome the power of negative entities. In ancient teachings, negative forces were also expressed through dance, often through attempts of seduction. 

Two photographs from the 1960s captured in Bali representing the conflict between tourism and appreciating versus appropriating sacred culture is a perfect example of subjugation in this curation. The first photo captures the ancient history behind a Bali dance, where a battle was won and is celebrated in dance. The second photograph represents Western visitors being fascinated with such dances that are considered to be sacred and secular. A resolution was reached, where Western visitors can still appreciate the dances. However, they are no longer able to perform them themselves but are performed for by the Balinese people.

As the exhibit continues, it travels into glorification, where dancers perform to honor gods and kings alike. An 1882 printing advertisement of Nautch Dancers and Whirling Dervishes is framed on the exhibit's wall, representing female dancers performing rail-road shows to working men. This exhibit shows how dance has evolved from a way of showing devotion to celestial beings to performing for even the working class.

The exhibit wraps up in an area titled celebration. The celebration section honors how dance has been a constant since the beginning of time as a means to preserve and joyously celebrate moments throughout life. A video projected along three walls shows a dimly lit modern-day Singapore street, rich with colorful buildings and urban alleyways. A man dances throughout the streets as others in the street go on about their nights. This presentation brings the exhibit full circle, showing how the meaning of dance is ever-evolving and adapting along with time.

Tickets for the exhibit start at $12, with discounted rates for students, children and seniors. The exhibit will run from Nov. 11 until Feb. 5, 2023, before it moves to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.