Motion and Meaning: Sign and Body Gesture in Dance Narratives across Cultures
Diane Brentari (Linguistics), Anastasia Giannakidou (Linguistics), Haun Saussy (Comparative Literature)
This project brings together faculty from the humanities, performing arts, and social sciences to investigate the relationships between meaning and motion, particularly in the context of classical Indian dance. Training in classical Indian dance is intensive and requires mastery of dozens of gestures and facial expressions with extraordinarily subtle distinctions that convey specific emotions to the audience. Aesthetic expectations are very important, and the gestures of dance form a poetics of posture and movement. The overarching question of the project is how meaning is produced by the body, and the goal is to develop a grammar of bodily expression by exploring the ways in which such a grammar would be similar to, or different from, the grammars of spoken and signed languages. The work will involve two components. The first involves the form-meaning correspondences within the locus of the dancers themselves. The second component investigates the meanings as they are understood by the audiences within the communities in which these dance traditions are typically performed.