Chandraleka (1928–2006) By Banerji, Anurima
Chandralekha Prabhudas Patel, known by the mononym Chandralekha, was a pioneering choreographer, dancer, writer, graphic designer, and social activist based in Chennai, India. Best known as an innovator of dance, she originated an open-ended, layered movement style that has been variously labeled ‘‘modern,’’ ‘‘postmodern,’’ ‘‘avant-garde,’’ ‘‘Western-influenced,’’ and ‘‘experimental,’’ although she resolutely rejected all of these categorizations. Initially trained in the classical dance Bharatanatyam, Chandralekha rebelled against the strictures of Indian concert performance by fusing the traditional lexicon with the structures and vocabulary of yoga, quotidian gestures, and Kalarippayattu—a South Indian martial art—to create a novel dance language devoted to the exploration of body politics in a contemporary frame. In the arc of her artistic career, which spanned half a century from the 1950s to 2006, the period between 1985 and 1995 is often cited as the time when she crystallized her choreographic technique and vision. Regarded as an iconoclast, Chandralekha is also considered a controversial figure in the field of Indian performance for her radical approach to art and politics, domains that she saw as indivisible from each other. She pursued her creative commitments up to the time of her death from cervical cancer in 2006. A significant force in the history of Indian dance, Chandralekha continues to serve as an influential figure for many artists working at the intersection of a number of indigenous and transnational South Asian forms.