Sonia Nair

Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only


Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Supervisor

Dr Maggi Phillips

Second Supervisor

Dr Renee Newman

Third Supervisor

Andries Weidemann


This study explores how a traditional Indian storytelling dance form crosses religious and ethnic frontiers. As a performance-oriented analysis, the Kuchipudi style of Indian classical dance will be placed in parallel with western classical ballet to discover the shared and/or distinctive characteristics, in terms of spirituality and ways of communication in both styles. The synchronisation of the two traditional styles aims to reveal how an under- standing of spirituality infused in dance can be gained whilst, at the same time, demonstrat- ing the symbolic and performative relationships between the two classical dance forms.

The selected themes are the classical ballet, ‘Giselle’ (Act II) and the ‘Rasalila’, the eternal circular dance of Lord Krishna, Radha and the Gopis. These dance forms have been chosen since both have underpinning spiritual themes.

Both Giselle and Rasalila depict journeys of eternal romance and unconditional love as the basis of their spiritual evocations. Giselle supports Albrecht to overcome the obstacle in his path, guarding him from death and guiding his realisation of the value of true love. Krishna imparts the truth of comprehensive love and surrenders which is the singular pathway to ultimate bliss or ‘ananda’.

The two performers explore the two sets of characters by remaining within the discipline of their respective art form, creating an unusual and challenging approach to these conventional stories. Through their interpretations, the dancers endeavour to transport the audience to a realm of spirituality.

This project questions the different approaches to belief as practised in Hindu dance and classical ballet. The project also explores nuances of a famous and popular feature of the Kuchipudi repertoire, the plate and the pot dance. Here the dancer balances a pot full of water on her head while, simultaneously, executing rhythmic steps on the brass plate. Along with exhibiting the skills and concentration of the devoted performer, this sequence symbolically represents the elevation of the spirit to another state of endurance through the proficiency of the dancer. Is there an equivalent spiritual immersion found in the exquisite devotion of Giselle or in the precision requires of the ballet dancer? Whilst acknowledging cultural, geographic and historical differences, the placement of the two classical dance forms side by side aims to uncover and explore the spiritual imperatives of both forms.

Access Note

Access to this thesis is restricted to the exegesis.