Bio: Shanti Pillai is an artist, scholar, and writer. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology and International Relations from Stanford University (1989), an M.A. in Asian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley (1990), and a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University (2005). Over the course of her career she has taught students from thirty countries at institutions on four continents. She has offered seminars on theatrical forms of Asia, cultural policy, globalization, urban development, and performance in relation to issues of race, gender and class. She has taught studio courses in dance as well as physical expression for actors. Before joining CSULB, Shanti served as Resident Director of the Princeton University Semester in Cuba, a program that she helped to create in 2010.
Shanti’s academic research explores contemporary theater, dance, and performance art from the perspective of the broader world of cultural production in a neo-liberal India. Taking an ethnographic look at artists and audiences, she examines the formation of new public spheres in which performance making and reception respond to the sweeping changes taking place in Indian society. Her focus is on how participants in this emerging world of art making negotiate complex identities within and against the priorities of the state and the newly emerging global order. She is also interested in the intersection between ethnography and theater, in particular how the artist-researcher can create performance as a context for fieldwork with artists and audiences. Her writing has appeared in The Drama Review, Women and Performance, the Dance Research Journal, Trialog and the blog of the Michigan Quarterly.
Shanti is a bharatanatyam dancer trained by T. Balasaraswati’s two senior disciples, Nandini Ramani of Chennai and Priyamvada Sankar of Montreal. She has performed and given lecture demonstrations at various venues and universities. She has also worked in contemporary dance and theater. From 1991-1996 she performed with the Frente de Danza Independiente in Ecuador. Since 2005 she has worked for extended periods in Cuba, collaborating with dancers and actors and creating and performing in original works, including a multicultural version of Shakuntala. Her current project is an autobiographical solo of text and movement, Permanent Address.
In her creative work Shanti investigates ways in which the principles and techniques of traditional Indian theater can serve the creation of a contemporary, physical language that explores the theatrical form and cultural politics. This includes endeavoring to create intimacy and distance through the juxtaposition of multiple acting styles as well as challenging the audience to question where the lines between performer and character begin and end.
In the Summer of 2016 Shanti made a master class in Theater Pokoleniy.