Margaret Walker: “The ‘Nautch’, the Veil and the Bayadère: The Indian Nautch as Musical Nexus”

Dr Margaret Walker’s chapter “The ‘Nautch’, the Veil and the Bayadère: The Indian Nautch as Musical Nexus” has just been published in The Music Road: Coherence and Diversity from the Mediterranean to India, a British Academy Proceedings volume and outcome of the Balzan Project “Towards a Global History of Music.”

Chapter Abstract:

The ‘Nautch’, the Veil, and the Bayadère: The Indian Nautch as Musical Nexus

During the early period of mercantile contact with India, the exotic spectacle of the Bayadères or Nautch Girls seized the imagination of Western sojourners. The “dancing girl” is found everywhere in late-18th– and 19th-century Orientalist paintings, poetry, novels, and of course, ballets, operas and other musical compositions. Although there are substantial studies exploring musical “orientalisms” in Western Art Music, little attention has been paid to the likelihood of real-life performances inspiring such musical creation. In this paper, I explore the long-term influence of colonial interaction with Indian dance performances, beginning with the period of patronage and musical engagement in the late 1700s and moving through the 19th century orientalist ballets and operas, early-20th century Euro-American modern and “oriental” dance, and ending with a brief look at the classical dance revival in early-postcolonial India. In doing so, I carefully resituate these cultural products in their time and place of creation, historicizing genres that have too often been analyzed as artefacts of the same ideological moment. Finally, the paper also emphasises the centrality of the nautch performance as a nexus for the European experience of Indian music, demonstrating the importance of including dance in studies of music history.

Link to publishers page: