Archives in Europe store numerous documents of India’s early 20th century dance-modernism. These documents offer an insight into a key-period of modernity – when new ideas circulated between India and Europe. This led to the creation of a modern dance repertoire in both parts of the world and brought – especially in the 1920s and 30s – international attention to the rediscovery, preservation, and re-invention of classical, performative art forms in India.
A group of historians and artists from India and Germany has collaborated over the last 5 years in a collective research project that aimed to unveil the contours of an entangled dance-history between India and Europe. The project resulted in the founding of the „Menaka-Archive“ – a database and research platform, that links traces of dance modernism between India and Germany.
A significant recent outcome of the Menaka-Archive is the complete reconstruction of Indian choreographer Leila Roy-Sokhey’s („Madame Menaka“) tour to Europe from 1936-1938. At the height of her success as a dancer and choreographer in India, Menaka had taken her Indian ballett abroad and had perfomed at hundreds of prestigious venues in Europe, mainly in Germany, including an award-winning participation in the “International Dance Competition” during the Berlin Olympics in 1936.
Overshadowed by the outbreak of World War II and her early death in 1947, Menaka’s project fell into oblivion. Nevertheless Menaka’s tour was a remarkable highlight in the revival and modernisation of Indias performative arts.
In contrast to this, astonishingly little is known about Menaka’s life, project and the circumstances of this early encounter between Indian and European dance avantgarde. Only now it turned out, that the documents and remainings of her tour to Europe have preserved a wide spectrum of insights into the history of her unique cultural undertaking. The archival finds open up a window into the past and reveal the contours of Menakas project as an archive in it’s own right for the first time.