“How can dance be sustained by its practitioners in the unstable political and geographical landscape of war?” Satkunaratnam asks this through her text, Moving Bodies, Navigating Conflict: Practicing Bharatanatyam in Colombo, Sri Lanka
(Wesleyan UP, 2020), a groundbreaking ethnographic examination of dance practice in Colombo, Sri Lanka, during the civil war (1983–2009). It is the first book of scholarship on bharata natyam (a classical dance originating in India) in Sri Lanka, and the first on the role of this dance in the country's war. Focusing on women dancers, Ahalya Satkunaratnam shows how they navigated conditions of conflict and a neoliberal, global economy, resisted nationalism and militarism, and advocated for peace. Her interdisciplinary methodology combines historical analysis, methods of dance studies, and dance ethnography.
In this discussion, Satkunaratnam describes her ethnographic work, placing importance on the body, which carries the memory of war and transnational shifts. Satkunaratnam emphasizes trust and freeness in her process of telling stories that disrupt boundaries.
Ahalya Satkunaratnam is professor of arts and humanities at Quest University Canada located in the unceded territories of the Tseil-Watuth, Musqueum, and Squamish peoples. A dancer and choreographer, she has performed across the United States, Canada, India, and Sri Lanka.
Preethi Ramaprasad is a performer and doctoral student in Critical Dance Studies at the University of California, Riverside. Her research is based on the politics of bharatanatyam, mythologies, and transnationalism.