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Sixteen

Janani Lakshmanan

January 17, 2020

Major: Mathematics (Astronomy minor)

Genre/Medium: Bharatanatyam (Indian Classical Dance)

About the work: Sixteen is a meaningful number to students of the Indian classical arts, as this number of beats are counterpart to common time in Western music. We know the 4/4 time signature as “Adi Talam,” meaning “First Meter,” because it is the most innate counting pattern to humans for reasons that evade detection. Given that 16-Psyche has an inborn connection to my art form, I decided to stretch my metric muscles and write what is known as a Trikala jathi.

A jathi is the name given to a sequence of meaningless rhythmic syllables. For dance, it is pure aesthetic movement. At the same time, the dancer is still hoping to communicate something to the audience. Because jathis are purely percussive in nature, I didn’t realize how much of a role they played in conveying the emotion that the dancer can utilize when performing them. This piece was an exercise in meter primarily and a choreography secondarily. When I wrote the jathi, I was surprised at how easily choreography came to me, and the construction of the jathi itself has a gentle lilting rhythm that made me think of circular orbits, which inspired many aspects of my choreography and costume. I used the alapadma hasta a lot in this piece. This can be used to denote celestial objects. In this case, 16-Psyche was my muse.

The video of this piece is overlaid with snippets of mere recitation of the rhythmic syllables. This manifests the connection I made between this piece and Dr. Rona Oran’s explanation of the scientists’ role in building Psyche’s magnetometer. They are on hand to consult before the spacecraft is launched, so that the engineers may have reliable projections of performance specifications, but they only get to do their science after the spacecraft has orbited. This makes their work now that much more clearsighted. I had an artistic vision of performing this piece outdoors when I was conceiving this presentation, which proved to be unpleasant for my bare feet, but the pedestrian motion in the backdrop was joyously reminiscent of the number of people working behind the scenes to make this mission a success.

Date Added: 01-17-2020
Credit: Janani Lakshmanan

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