Chhau Dance: Traditional to Contemporary
Chhau refers to three types of dance forms performed in the eastern parts of India, in the present states of West Bengal,Jharkhand, and rissa. The etymology of the term chhau is not clear. Some state that it is derived from a word meaning “a mask” while some say it comes from a
word meaning “a military camp”.Both interpretations, however,reveal something about the genre.Colourful masks are used in two of the three sub-genres, while all of them are based on indigenous martial dance.
All of them are performed solely by male dancers while singing, so the central element in most of India’s dance and dance-drama types is almost absent. Two of them are accompanied only by percussion instruments.
The dance technique reveals chhau’s martial origins. It consists of powerful movements, kicks, and leaps. In its basic position the dancer’s legs form a square. In this extremely open leg position the dancers are able to proceed on the stage by moving the soles of their feet lightly sideways without lifting them from the ground.Chhau became renowned both nationally and internationally only at the end of the 20th century.
Now it is often included in festival programmes and removed from its original context. Its powerful technique has also been used as a basis for contemporary choreographies.