Welcome Back Live: Q&A, Bijayini Satpathy

This article was originally published on the Duke Performances blog

Duke Performances returns to live performance this fall with 16 presentations that welcome audiences back to stages at Duke University and in downtown Durham. Welcome Back Live!

Ahead of Bijayini Satpathy’s performances at von der Heyden Studio Theater, Michaela Dwyer “sat down” with the artist to chat about her work.

We encourage you to check Duke Performances’ blog to read previous Q&As with artists participating in our spring 2020 livestream series and summer 2020 Music in Your Gardens series.

For the past year, your Instagram account has provided an intimate peek into your studio process: a documentary trajectory of your artistic creation and technical practice, staged mostly in your outdoor home studio space in India. How has this method of documenting and public sharing shaped your relationship with your work?

My practice since the start of 2019 has been in my home studio, where I have found a deeper reflective experience in the solitude of my individual practice. Practice in solitude and in silence has been in self-contemplation and conversations with and within myself. A lot of the ideas and revelations emerge during repetitions, explorations, and choreography. Most of them are questions, hypotheses, and suggestions born from encounters of experience — some ecstatic and sure, some confusing and uncertain. I record myself to look for their resonance in my movement and when I have found consistency, I have been inspired to share with the only accessible community — the virtual one. 

While it began as a daily documentation ritual of sorts — an in-the-moment record of the process — I have enjoyed the sharing because in the absence of communication, interaction, and live performances, this has been my part of a conversation. This regular documentation has revealed interesting insight primarily into my research on the rethinking and reshaping of the training vocabulary of Odissi that I have been undertaking for the last two decades. Some of them reflect my choreography.

You have written about how the Odissi dance form has “occupied” your body over the course of your performance career. How would you characterize the shift that urged you to choreograph, and to make solo work?

It all began as an unsettling, a certain restlessness within. I had to step out of my own chosen path of many years to find what it was. Even though this was very frightening, I did it, because I just had to. Once out, my mind was free from everyday tasks of a full-time job as the head of a renowned school and the principal dancer of a very prolific company, and there was endless time at hand staring at me and scaring me.

Befriending time was my first challenge, then absorbing my constant fears of this late start, including possible failure. The daily discipline of practice despite the discomfort of so much change slowly opened to me the other side, to the simple joy of new discoveries. My body knows Odissi backwards because of more than four decades of practice. I let it relax and it shows me ways that I haven’t been taught or have encountered. I work at letting my mind open and new interpretations emerge to surprise me. Turning ideas and impulses into the form and shape of movements is a very rewarding process. I am raw and learning and have a long way to go to finding the depth of my voice. The journey is on, and it is exciting.

How have you noticed your choreographic impulses evolve between the beginning of this project and the present, when you’ve begun to share the work virtually and, soon, in person?

The choreography of each of the dances of Abhipsaa have had a different path and process of making. To me all dances oscillate between layers of physicality, emotions, and a further deeper experience, perhaps of the soul. I have attributed each of these realms to a dance in Abhipsaa
Abhipsaa literally means “seeking.” This is an investigative journey to discover my choreographic instincts. I felt by exploring it through the body, heart, and soul, I would find a few answers. I divided and dedicated one residency each to delve deeper into these realms. As the works take shape and evolve, all they tell me is more about myself, inclinations, comforts, fears, patterns, questions, interests, and truths. I have tried to remain honest in the process, which has left me very vulnerable and humbled.