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Kaustavi: Movement and Agency

Paring down my movement to bare bones in the 3D environment via technological abstraction connects me philosophically to the question of agency. Is it really me in the skeletal approximation? I see my quirks and twitches. Yet, my face, my muscles, my hair, and my nails are absent from this iteration. I am drawn to the technicity of my dancing body in a scientific way as I see the successful isolations of my torso movements in contrast to static hips—the hallmark of embodied virtuosity in bodily control in the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra style of Odissi. However, the reduced embodiment of my movement amplifies the slippages of my controlled hip motions. I see where my hips move. Sometimes, the motion is impossible to avoid and at other times, it is a question of animating more control of my limbs. Movement across space requires a certain readjustment of hips that is unavoidable. Maintaining perfectly aligned hips while bending knees in one-legged balances requires a stronger hold on the technique of this particular style of Odissi. These embodied slippages bring to surface questions of agency and control on my embodied historical lineages. Marginalized for her lack of technique, perhaps, noted in her uncontrolled hip motion, the Mahari dancing body was not imagined to have contributed to the artistic project of Odissi. Using her historical currency to prove cultural continuity of the form over a millennium, received narratives of Odissi history do not give her agency. As a historical corrective maneuver, I connect to the Mahari in this rendition of abstract hip displacements. Her movement does not reflect the sanitized policing of hips that my Odissi body is subjected to. I feel despite the deliberate attempts of my embodied training to eliminate Mahari performativity, she erupts in these slippages. In these moments, the historical Mahari perhaps mediates from within the unforeseen depths of Odissi movement reduced via technological mediation using motion capture.

Erin: Access to Gesture

The skeletal version of the dance provides a very different kind of access to the captured movement data. In this case, all channels have been stripped away and simplified into barebones geometric representation of the moving body. Expressive information via the face and hands is no longer available; attention is focused entirely on the movement of limbs and core from pose to pose. For an outside audience, this video deliberately subverts any hint of semantic meaning; this is not a textualized, captioned body, but rather a gestural representation that draws attention to movement itself for its own sake.

For me as an outsider, this version of the video provides the best access to dance movement as data; this version provides best access to the motion capture process. By stripping away all other communicative channels and presenting a primarily geometric shape, as a non-dancer I am reoriented toward thinking about dance in a mechanical or structural way, from movement to movement, as a dancer might in the middle of the process (rather than as a total expressive whole presented to an audience member). This version invites me as audience into the mechanics of the dance process—into joints, muscles, limbs, posed at particular angles, moving from structure to structure. Moreover, it invites me as reader into a hint of the mechanical intricacies of the mocap process—seeing each sensor placed at precise points, translating each embodied movement into digital data. For a viewer not familiar with the symbolic movements of Odissi tradition or classical Indian aesthetic theories, this version does not provide narrative or emotional access. Rather, it draws attention to what the choreographer Merce Cunningham (University Musical Society, 2011) called "movement for movement's sake" as much as possible, manifested as simply as possible while still working within the framework of the human body. The anthroposkeletal avatar maintains basic integrity of the human form as opposed to an abstract motion generator that exceeds the human frame in experiments by visual artist Memo Atken and digital animator Robert Burton (Schofield, 2011, p. 205).