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‘Beyond Bollywood’ exhibition to explore 2,000 years of dance in art

British photographers Charles Shepherd and Arthur Robertson captured this image of a popular Indian court dance, “Nautch With Three Dancers,” circa 1862 and later printed it using the albumen method.| Courtesy Asian Art Museum

With 120 artworks from five different countries, San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum highlights the transformative power of dance in its new exhibition, “Beyond Bollywood,” opening March 31. 

Everything from the sensual dances of courtly performers before a maharaja to the celebratory excesses of modern Bollywood capture the ecstasy and joy in physical movement. 

Balinese dance | Courtesy Asian Art Museum

The multimedia exhibition immerses viewers in a showcase of dance across time periods and disciplines, including painting, sculpture, textiles, jewelry and photographs. 

Given the infectious popularity of Bollywood films, Director of the Asian Art Museum Jay Xu seeks to give museumgoers the opportunity to understand the complex heritage of dance across South and Southeast Asia. 

This bronze artwork depicts the deity Hevajra dancing surrounded by dancing yoginis, and dates from circa 1050–1100 from the former kingdom of Angkor in modern-day Northeastern Thailand. | Courtesy Asian Art Museum

“We wanted our community to be able to appreciate the deep historical, spiritual—and even economic and political—roots of dance,” Xu said. 

Live dance performances are scheduled for the museum’s new Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion, in addition to pop-up performances on second Sundays and Thursdays in the exhibition galleries. Family Fun Days on the first Sunday of every month include dance-themed activities for all ages.

This watercolor painting from circa 1730, "Dancing Villagers," is attributed to Pandit Seu. | Courtesy Asian Art Museum

Co-curated by Ainsley M. Cameron and Forrest McGill, the exhibition is divided into five thematic sections, whose massive scope points to the deep significance of dance in Southeast Asia. 

“There are few major world cultures in which gods dance and dance to convey matters of such divine seriousness,” McGill said. 

Beyond Bollywood

 🗓️ March 31 through July 20, 2023
📍 Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St.