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Kaustavi: Movement and Media

The notion of embodiment is an important thread throughout my experimentation with mediation. To what extent can the digital retain my embodied self? How does meaning appear within a set of playful experimental iterations through the juxtaposition of my movement with various 3D models, also known as avatars? Reflecting on multiple embodiments in real life—the Odissi body and the Mahari body—I continue seeking multiplicity in reel life—the skeletal body and the avatar body. In the avatar version, I don a male avatar with brown skin and black overalls and introduce pictorial representations of my gestures. I choose a male avatar to bring in this discussion the other lineage of historical practitioners who were instrumental in propagating Odissi. In this rendition, I connect to the Gotipua body—a Gotipua is a prepubescent young boy who dressed as a girl and danced outside the temple from sixteenth century onwards. The practice of Gotipua dancing is still going on while the Mahari has been erased from the popular imaginary. This iterative digital version precedes my final video Mahari Out (Sarkar, 2017), where I am still in the process of finding the traces of the Mahari in me. Given that the Gotipua lineage overshadows the Mahari lineage, I am compelled to imagine my movement on a male body for a historically accurate representation.

digital rendering of male avatar dancing on grid with drawing of woman in background
Figure 20. Male avatar and visual artist Indrani Chaudhari reimagines the historical sculpture of the Sukasarika.

While the Odissi body is a palimpsest with infinite potential of signification within gestural, postural, formal, technical (footwork, jumps, spins, facial expressions, etc.), philosophical, theological, and spiritual registers, I chose images to complement the narrative meaning of the hand gestures. For example, I chose to pictorially represent lamps, animals, flowers, deities, and sculptures complementing my gestural abstraction as performed by my avatar. What remains of my embodied movement as it juxtaposes on a male avatar in the midst of pictorial interruptions? My motion shapes the mobility of the avatar as he navigates in space with pictures sprouting alongside. The pictures amplify the expressive gestures. As the fingers shape into Kapithha, a single-handed gesture where the tips of the forefinger and the thumbs touch while the rest of the fingers curl on the palm, an image of a female figure holding a bird emerges in the horizon. Kapithha refers to a bird and the movement borrows from the sculptural pose of the Sukasarika. The pictorial depiction of the Sukasarika is visual artist, Indrani Chaudhari's re-imagination of the sculptural Sukasarika (Figure 20).

Combining visual art, sculpture, history, and dance contextualized within historical associations, I want this mediation to create a dense experience with multiple symbolism simultaneously occurring across multiple registers. Meaning is not restricted to linear storytelling with the use of pictorial representation of gestural language. Rather, remaining integral to the non-gender segregated movement of Odissi, it increases the layers of possible meaning-making process. Movement attributed to the Mahari remains a part of my choreography as I incorporate the Meenadanda or the fish-walk that the Mahari performed in the Jagannath temple in Odisha. The male body performs the Meenadanda while sculptural images of the Alasa-Kanyas appear on the screen; Alasa-Kanyas are sculptural figures of female figures that adorn the temple facades in Odisha. According to popular folklore, the Alasa-Kanyas are mythical progenitors of the Maharis. Thus, juxtaposing historical movements, statuesque inspirations, and myth, meaning is not linear in this layered narrative. With this experiment, I hoped to create a rich layered experience across my live movement, my motion captured movement animating avatar motility, visual art perspective on sculptural stasis, sculptural posture, and symbolic associations across myth, folklore, and formal dance technique.

Erin: Access to Multimodal Narrative

For a cultural outsider, the avatar plus image version of the video provides another approach entirely to accessing the dance experience. This video provides some indication of the possibilities associated with motion-capture data, and the ability to project one person's movement onto a range of different digital suggestions of embodiment. Here, Kaustavi chooses a male avatar to remediate her choreography motion captured as data. For my analysis, I want to focus on the choice of incorporating images into the dance video itself. These images become part of the dance setting itself; they appear to the upper left and right of the dancing figure in the three dimensional space, and one (the candle image, Figure 21) even becomes part of the dance movement itself.

digital avatar dancing on a grid
Figure 21. The moving pictorial image in tandem with the movement of the dancing body.

These images provide a new layer and level of access into the dance narrative. Like the verbal captions on the live dance sequence, they give some indication of the narrative being presented. However, in this case they give symbolic visual representation of the meaning being suggested, as an illustration or part of the dance environment, rather than a separate channel. In this senese, these images are similar to Janine Butler's (2018a) discussion of integral captions that are part of the video itself, or to Sean Zdenek's (2018) experiments with ways of incorporating different kinds of visual–textual captions into various videos.

These images create a different kind of emotional experience of the dance narrative through suggestive association rather than explicit connection. They invite the viewer into the interpretive process of making sense of each dance movement, and they resist the re-textualization of the Odissi body into specific verbal forms while still providing concrete symbolic associations. They supplement the dance movement rather than superseding it. In the best of cases, they are integrated into the dance gestures themselves, drawing attention to the movement even further rather than contrasting as static scenery. This decision raises perhaps new implications for thinking of motion capture as a space not just of representing motion, but as a way of incorporating multiple channels for creating experiences that represent narrative meaning.