Quasimodo in the Outback goes to India

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Quasimodo in the Outback, an innovative dance film choreographed and performed by associate professor of dance Kim Arrow, will be shown at an international dance film festival in Bangalore, India this February. This week-long festival will showcase dance films from around the world and will also feature live performances of contemporary Indian dance. The festival aims to erase the boundaries of a technological culture, an approach which Arrow says is unique in its sense of social responsibility.

Quasimodo sprang from Arrow’s dissatisfaction with past attempts to integrate live performance with projection. He wanted to work with film in a way that enriched rather than distracted from live performance.

This project was developed from a 42 minute concert performance which examined the concept of embodiment. For Arrow, this concept was closely related to the aboriginal people he spent time with while working with aboriginal dance forms and the didgeridoo on a 2000 sabbatical in Australia. One day, while near the bank of a river, he noticed a group of aborigines walking on the other side. At that moment, they appeared to him to be floating.

He understood the aborigines’ marginalized place in society in the midst of land riots and he felt it made sense that because the aborigines could not have full rights to their land, they should not be anchored to the land or governed by gravity. He brought this into his work by focusing on the ways that we abstract the body, either through the dehumanizing language of war or in the abstraction of aboriginal peoples and other fourth world cultures.

Arrow worked on the piece with Aryani Manring, a former Swarthmore dance major, and he says, “I can’t imagine doing it with another dancer.” He described a particular segment of the performance inspired by fruit bats, which involved being suspended upside down for a considerable period of time. It incorporated a lot of movement which could not be fully controlled and he commented on the ease with which he and Aryani were able to work around each others’ movements.

The work does not contain imagery solely from Australia. One segment, which Arrow calls Draupadi in the Desert integrates a popular character from Indian mythology. Draupadi was a woman who had lost her husband and was about to be raped by family members. As they were pulling on her sari, she prayed for a never ending sari and as her would-be rapists attempted to unravel the sari, she danced joyfully.

Arrow believes this sense of sexual violence being transformed into exultation is very appropriate to aboriginal peoples as their land is raped. Arrow integrated this into Quasimodo with a suspended woman unraveling from a sari in a way that he says evokes the image of a meteor or a comet. This segment was set to aboriginal didgeridoo as well as the Muslim call to prayer and Hindu morning call, the last two a combination he often heard inadvertently mixed when studying yoga in India and which he found extremely meaningful.

He chose the title Quasimodo in the Outback because he believes that the marginalized hunchback helps to illustrate the marginalization of aboriginal peoples and the sense of their land as a threatened sanctuary. Also, Quasimodo sounded the bell of alarm which is appropriate to signal the aborigines’ imminent loss of their environment.

After the concert piece was complete, Arrow began to convert it into a film. Through film of the live performance, motion capture technology, and animation, he worked with the material on several different levels of separation from the actual performance. However, he had been very happy with the live concert work, so he found it difficult to edit the piece down.

“I felt like a dubious mother who didn’t want to let my child go,” he said. However, he began cutting it down and rearranging different segments and was surprised to find new relationships between different parts of the piece through editing. Eventually, he felt like he couldn’t cut it down any more and still retain the piece’s full meaning. Then, he decided that it was complete and now feels comfortable with the finished product. Arrow is looking forward to attending its showing in Bangalore.

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