The Bechdel Test for contemporary dance group works

Namita Aavriti, a participant at the Writing on Dance Lab, along with the other participants looked at this test to read film suggested by a graphic novelist as a newer way to engage with the feminist politics of contemporary dance.

For all ye ignorants who do not know what the Bechdel test is, its the mathematical quick tool to evaluate whether a movie is watchable if you are an intelligent.. scratch that.. sentient woman. Succinctly put, the rule is that there should be two women who talk to each other during the film about something other than a man. Which, of course, means that there have to be two women in the film, and it would be nice if they had names. Names like Laughing SquidVixen Beauty are a plus, of course, but the bar is low, very low.. so lets not get ahead of ourselves.

For those who want to see the original comic strip where Alison Bechdel describes the test it is (via Wikipedia): 

After viewing the polar opposites such as the slightly aggravating yet autonomous feminine during Système Castafiore’s Les Chants De L'Umaï, the various aspects of gendered experience explored by the performers at the FACETS Choreography Residency presentations and the showcases of Platform 15: Emerging South Asia as well as in several group performances on the main stage, our chatty writers group had an inspired drinking session. And we came up with this test – the Bechdel test for contemporary dance group works. Now this test is a bit like the rules for writing, which means you can break any or all of them if you are good.

Pradeep Gunarathna presenting his solo at FACETS

1. Slightly obvious things – there should be more than one woman

2. Lets copy a bit from the original Bechdelian maneuver – two women should independently interact with each other – mirrored gestures, gliding parallel moves, touching, rolling, sliding is all very good.

3. Some original observations here – lets not have men pushing the woman down by the head. All is okay in movement vocabulary but when coupled with woman as passive set piece, backdrop or helpfully handing out beverages to fighting tired male dancer, it gets a bit harsh on our jangled nerves.

4. There should be no sudden coyness about physical contact between male and female. No deep penis-crotch rub between two men followed by intertwined, sliding hands between people of different genders.

5. Genitalia – there should be gloriously out there or like a gazelle in a forest; suddenly you see them and pooooooof they are gone. Anatomy is not destiny, as demonstrated brilliantly by many of the young performers at showings of the FACETS Choreography Residents and emerging choreographers at Platform 15.

6. Your star, most definitely, bestest female performer, who saves your show from forgetting its ironic tone and descending into pure pompous blahblah – yes, that woman, should not be heard/seen only after the halfway point of the show.

7. Labour should not be obviously gendered. Let’s see the woman shovel and do some heavy lifting as well, because .. yes, we can.

A still from Tao Dance Theater's <em>4</em>

P.S. Tao Dance Theater passed this test with flying colours. 

Namita Aavriti
Darshan Manakkal & Richa Bhavanam


Ligament, the online dance journal, has been launched to reflect the keen rise in the interest to contextualise, reflect and voice the goings-on around contemporary dance practices in the South Asian region. It has been envisioned as an avenue that is aimed at prompting and encouraging a sustained engagement between contemporary dance practitioners, thinkers, writers, artistic practitioners from other mediums, stakeholders and the wider public. Over the past editions of the Attakkalari Dance Biennial, there has been a continuous effort to create a space for writing on dance; and with this squarely in mind, Ligament has been conceived as a platform to facilitate the much-needed articulation and thinking through this evolving language. We hope to accomplish this by looking at this artistic practice through the perspective of historical threads that helped shape, through practice and creation of work, which is adding and solidifying the ever-changing lexicon and its presentation, or even through research and scholarship. The endeavour is to make this an open, creative and vibrant forum that invites ideas, contributions and suggestions allowing for the collective development of this artistic practice in the South Asian context; as well as mapping its links and impacts on contemporary dance as a whole. On one hand, it is about looking at contemporary dance as a growing repository of our present realities and on the other hand delving into our rich heritage of physical and performative traditions in an attempt to seek continuum and elucidate the now. In an attempt to ravel the medium of contemporary dance, We aren’t simply interested in text as a mode of expressing, reading, examining and looking at contemporary dance but to reflect the dynamic and interactive nature of the movement arts, we are also looking towards image, sound and video and the practitioners of these mediums to create and catalyse conversations. We hope that dialogue and discourse enabled through Ligament opens various entry points into the ongoing shifts in contemporary dance for its lovers, practitioners, enablers and its future.

- Jayachandran Palazhy
Artistic Director, Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts

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