A PowerPoint presentation on molecular construction of lipids or the evolution of frogs may make your eyes glaze over, even if you were quite interested in the topics. But what if it was communicated through the fluid movements of contemporary dance? Would you then not only stay alert, but also absorb better and even engage with the performance and the questions it raises? This is no esoteric idea but a movement called "bodystorming", a way to investigate and communicate ideas through dance, as opposed to just brainstorming. And it's being brought to India for the first time by the National Centre for Biological Sciences, or NCBS, in Bengaluru, in collaboration with the US-based movement theatre company, Black Label Movement.
"When I first saw bodystorming at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts during a summer course there, I thought it was really cool. It opened up our minds," says Darius Koester, research fellow at NCBS and a trained contemporary dancer himself. He realised NCBS too could benefit from this unique movement and decided to bring it to India, with the aid of a fellowship from the Wellcome Trust.
The idea behind bodystorming is not just to communicate a scientific thesis better, explains Aparna U Banerjee, an epidemiologist at NCBS and a trained Odissi dancer. She heads the Science and Society programme at the centre, which looks at bringing in other investigative processes in scientific research, including from arts and humanities. "It will also open up possibilities for both scientists and artistes to approach investigation differently and generate questions or give insights that a computer model might not be able to come up with."
"As dancers, we collaborate with other dancers, musicians and even filmmakers to think outside the usual framework. However, collaborating with a scientist sounds like a risky proposition, where we wonder if we will even understand each other. So this should be very exciting," says Shabari Rao, faculty member at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, and part of the organising team.
Scheduled to kick off in the last week of April, the programme will begin with a residency for professional dancers in the city, who will be trained by Black Label Movement, led by professor Carl Fink and David Odde, the company's scientific collaborator. Ten shortlisted dancers from this group will then work with scientists at NCBS, as part of a residential workshop. For the general public, there will be talks and presentations by Fink and Odde, and also live performances. The finale will be presentations of the work created by the city's dancers and NCBS scientists during the bodystorming programme in Bengaluru and performances by Black Label Movement.
The response so far has been amazing, both here and in the US, says Koester. "I was quite surprised with the resonance the programme created. The scientists here are very excited and I have already got some very interesting proposals."
The stakeholders, both the scientists and the dancers, are hopeful that they can take bodystorming in India forward and not make this a one-off event. "We want a longer interaction between dancers and scientists in Bengaluru and make it an ongoing, continuous process and create new ideas," says Koester.
Rao, who will be documenting and participating in the programme, says there is a lot of potential for bodystorming as a concept in India and are keen to see it progress in the Indian context, long after the Black Label Movement have left. "We hope this is just the starting point," she says.