Art World

Asian Art Museum takes you beyond Bollywood

Nautch with Three Dancers by Shepherd & Robertson. Image: courtesy Asian Art Museum

Beyond Bollywood: 2000 Years of Dance in Art” reveals the power of dance in South and Southeast Asia from ancient temples to modern movie classics. Co-organized by the Asian Art Museum and the Cleveland Art Museum, where it premiered earlier this year, the exhibition  features more than 120 artworks, the majority from the Asian Art Museum. Other contributors include the  Cleveland Art Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Art Institute of Chicago; and private collections. The multimedia exhibition immerses museumgoers in dance via contemporary sculpture, painting, textiles, jewelry, photographs, and more. Visitors will gain a deeper understanding of the enduring power of dance to inspire art and audiences alike.


“The world loves Bollywood films for their famously elaborate choreography, and we wanted our community to be able to appreciate the deep historical, spiritual — and even economic and political — roots of dance . . . ,” says Jay Xu, Asian Art Museum director and CEO. 

The exhibition includes experiential theatrics from musical backdrops to large video installations. Throughout its duration, “Beyond Bollywood” will include scheduled live performances in the museum’s new Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion, as well as numerous dance performances and programs. Movement and rhythm, whether sacred or secular, is rooted in ancient ritual and tradition. The form contains a function of life force, “. . . birth and death, global creation and destruction, gangs of gods and goddesses setting the pulse of the universe,” says Xu.

Dancer from Caressing Nostalgia. Photo: RJ Muna
Dancer from Caressing Nostalgia. Photo: RJ Muna


“Beyond Bollywood” is divided into five thematic sections: Destruction and Creation, Devotion, Subjugation, Glorification, and Celebration. Each thematic gallery sets a tone with a single historic artwork combined with music and immersive video to create an environment of experience for each subject. Arranging the artworks across these themes helps to emphasize how much “the dance, and the art that depicts it, enriches and connects this massive, diverse geography of peoples, places, and beliefs,” explains Forest McGill, Asian Art Museum senior curator of South and Southeast Asia.

The first gallery, Destruction and Creation, begins with a Chola-dynasty bronze Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance demonstrating the “dance of bliss.” Shiva is one of the principal deities of Hinduism and represents creation and destruction, a power that transforms the universe. 

Next, the Devotion gallery opens with another major Hindu deity, Krishna. In Krishna Dances with the Cowherd Women (1850–1900), the god of protection, compassion, tenderness and love joins a circle of cowherd women in the “dance of divine love.”

In Subjugation, domination and control is exemplified by a bronze work from 1050–1100, Dancing Hevajra Surrounded by Dancing Yoginis. A multilimbed protective Buddhist deity, Hevajra is shown dancing on a demonic corpse, a symbol of overcoming illusion or maya. The dancing yoginis are powerful female deities circling Hevajra on the cremation ground. 

A masterpiece of Angkor stonework from 1075–1125 C.E. marks the beginning of Glorification. Dancers and Musicians Entertaining a Deity or Nobleman depicts a complex of female dancers performing before a princely male figure. Likely based on a story from mythology, the nobleman sits calmly at the center of the stone frieze under a parasol and is cooled by a servant fanning him. 

Dancers from Urban Jazz Dance Company. Photo: Mark Kitoaka
Dancers from Urban Jazz Dance Company. Photo: Mark Kitoaka

Celebration is represented by Dancing Villagers, a painting attributed to Pandit Seu dating from 1730 C.E. The dancers, in their varied poses as they interact with the unheard, imagined music performed by musicians on the far right of the image epitomize the vibrant power of dance in front of a bright orange background.

In Beyond Bollywood, dance is a moment captured. Dance is ritual, entertainment, and a way to interact with the gods who create the world we inhabit. “The goal is for audiences — whether already familiar with these dance traditions or encountering them for the first time — to come away with a fresh appreciation for the skill of both the artist memorializing a dance and the dancers themselves, as well as the raw emotion and pure devotion that ignites them, says McGill.


Daily exhibition-related artmaking will take place in the Shriram Experiential Learning Center, and Bay Area dance schools and performers will supplement this exhibition with live performances. Dance Dialogue, a performance pop-up, will occur on the second Sundays and Thursdays in the exhibition galleries. TheBeyond Bollywood Dance Series will take place monthly, and Family Fun Days on the first Sunday of the month will include dance-themed activities for all ages.

Beyond Bollywood: 2000 Years of Dance In Art, Thursday 1–8 p.m., & Fri.–Mon. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. through July 10, $30, 200 Larkin St., 415-581-3500,

Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer in Southern California. She can be reached at

Send to a Friend Print