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Her Art and Life
Douglas M. Knight, Jr.

The Driftless Series

2010 • 364 pp. 69 illus. 7 x 10"
Biography / Dance / Asian Studies

$35.00 Hardcover, 978-0-8195-6906-6

“This handsome book is to be cherished.” Doris Hering, Dance Magazine

An intimate portrait of one of the great performing artists of the twentieth century

This is the first complete biography of T. Balasaraswati (1918–1984), a dancer and musician from southern India who became recognized worldwide as one of the great performing artists of the twentieth century. In India she was a legend in her own time, acclaimed before she was thirty years old as the great dancer of traditional bharata natyam. Balasaraswati was a passionate revolutionary, an entirely modern artist whose impact was proclaimed by some of the most prominent figures in contemporary dance in India and the West. Her art and life defined the heart of a tradition. Her life story offers an extraordinary view of the enigmatic matrilineal devadasi community and traditional artistic practice from which modern South Indian dance styles have emerged. This deeply engaging biography draws together Balasaraswati’s personal account of her life and her reflections on the process of making dance and music. It includes the commentary of family members and dozens of contemporaries from throughout her fifty-year career, revealing hereditary artistic values and conventions that have virtually disappeared in modern India. The book is generously illustrated with rare historical photos and a duotone gallery of distinguished photographers’ images of Balasaraswati’s dancing.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“Knight successfully integrates mostly never before seen materials housed in the family archives to produce an invaluable oral history . . . This work is accessible to non-specialists because of its narrative approach and the use of a minimum of technical terms; at the same time, historians of Asian post-colonial history, performance studies, dance, ethnomusicology, and globalization studies will benefit from the content and scope of this volume.”Katherine Zubko, Journal of Asian Studies

“This well-written and carefully researched first full biography devoted to Balasaraswati is filled with rich detail. It should appeal to specialized audiences interested in dance traditions and cultural history.”Carol J. Binkowski, Library Journal

“The story of her life and dance, caught in the middle of epoch-changing events, is told in a marvellous book, Balasaraswathi: Her Art and Life, written by her son-in-law, Douglas Knight.”Malini Nair, Times of India, Delhi

“(W)e are fortunate in having this loving and meticulous testament to the life and career of one of the major world artists of the 20th century.”
Judith Judson, Journal of Dance Education

“This well-written portrait of Bala is a welcome attempt to capture the life and career of an extraordinary artist of whom only scant film or video evidence remains.”
Rita Felciano, Dance Chronicle

“I urge anyone with a deep love of dance to read this extraordinary artist’s biography; Bala crowned an equally transcendent tradition.”

—Renee Renouf, Ballet Magazine

“Knight’s respectful, informative biography of renowned Bharatanatyam artist Balasaraswati is a must read for anyone interested in India’s performing arts, dance in general, and the opening of the world to non-Western arts.”—J.D. Erdman,

“Musician and author Douglas M. Knight, Jr. has written a primary resource about legendary dancer and musician T. Balasaraswati.”—Bernadine Jennings,
Attitude: The Dancers’ Magazine

“A gripping account of the hereditary system of transmissions in the performing arts through the biography of one of India’s greatest dancers, T. Balasaraswati. Douglas Knight, Jr., unfolds many layers of the personal, social, artistic, national, and international aspects of T. Balasaraswati’s life.” —Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, scholar and founder of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts

“Imagine a fascinating book written with knowledge, understanding, and talent celebrating the 20th century's greatest bharat natyam performer, the incomparable Balasaraswati. Well, here it is.” —Charles L. Reinhart, director, American Dance Festival

Author Photo

DOUGLAS M. KNIGHT JR. is a musician and independent scholar whose personal and artistic relationship with India and Balasaraswati’s family began in the late 1960s. He has appeared in performance with Balasaraswati, her brothers Ranganathan and Viswanathan, her daughter Lakshmi Knight, and her grandson Aniruddha Knight. He has been a Fulbright Scholar and a Guggenheim Fellow, as well as the recipient of other honors and awards.

A Driftless Series Book
This book is the 2010 selection in The Driftless Connecticut category, for an outstanding book in any field by a Connecticut author.
The Driftless Series is funded by the
Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation Fund
at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
For more information and a complete list of books in The Driftless Series,
please visit us online at

Fri, 9 Nov 2018 09:30:39 -0500