It is being called the first South Asian dance theatre piece to use holograms but UK-based Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancer Divya Kasturi’s new production, Forgot Your Password (FYP), reaches even farther into technology. The solo is set in the deepest matrices of the Web where hackers with nimble fingers peep into the secrets of their victims. Even human action becomes an algorithm and there is a binary code to break it. Three years in the making and with funding from the Arts Council England, the piece is having its world premiere in London. Before today’s performance at Harlow Playhouse in the UK, Kasturi, who has worked with artistes of international acclaim such as Paul McCartney, spoke to us about dance, danger and the digital world. Excerpts:
Did a real-life experience trigger the narrative of FYP?
I would say that the trigger for the creation of FYP was in 2011, when I was in the middle of submitting my postgraduate dissertation in South Asian Dance Studies at Roehampton University in London. I submitted a website to stand in for the conventional written dissertation. In the process of creating the website, I encountered a situation in which every window I was opening on the internet was prompting me to create a user name and password. This triggered the seed of an idea since user names and passwords represent another version of ourselves. How we choose the letters and characters, create a pattern, rehearse it carefully and type it into the space for a virtual audience, is very similar to how I would create choreography. I would create a movement, then a sequence or a pattern, rehearse it and present it in front of an audience.
In the middle of researching this idea, my email account got hacked. I was in India, getting ready for a performance, when my phone started to ring non-stop, with friends, well-wishers asking me if I was okay. The interesting thing with all these real-life experiences, which underpin FYP is that there is a lot of human emotion involved. There was the trauma in losing many years of accumulated information. The other human touch that appealed to me was that some of my friends actually believed the hacking email to be true. They replied to the hacker, offering to send the money demanded, and what they got as a response was the fact that the hacker actually knew every detail about me. It struck me that there was, somewhere amid the digital media, a human quality, and of course my personal trauma of not knowing how to begin recalling the contacts I had stocked up all these years.
How did you translate your experience into a fictional storyline?
FYP spins from my own experience, with the main character getting a hacked email. The fact that the hacking happened slowly unfolds through the 50-minute piece. It is interjected with holographic projections, some of which are to do with the protagonist multiplying so there are many avatars of her. In one instance, there are about seven of her on stage. How the protagonist gets affected emotionally is interspersed with the emotional arc of trust and starting all over again.
You are an engineer. Did this make it easier to perform with hologram technology?
I had to be 200 per cent alert while designing the whole piece. I had to imagine that there was a virtual hologram standing next to me and avatars of me were dancing alongside. Musion is the company that has done the holographic projections. They had realised Narendra Modi’s 3D holographic projections as well as Michael Jackson’s. I wanted to integrate it with performance in a theatre space, so that was how I envisaged the piece. We also tried a game for the audience to guess the most common passwords and winners would get free tickets to the performance. To add up to the experience, we designed a pre-show installation wherein people could try a dance move and watch their 2D avatar perform it in the foyer space before entering the theatre.