Giselle Ki Kahani

A rare confluence of puppetry and dance, Giselle Ki Kahani remains one of the most inspiring performances I have photographed over the years. Created by puppeteer Varun Narain in collaboration with dancer Rea Krishnatraye, the performance was an Indian take on the celebrated ballet Giselle from the Romantic era which first premiered in Paris in 1841.

Almost two centuries later, Giselle Ki Kahani was performed in 2009 at the Epicentre in Gurgaon supported with a grant from the India Foundation for the Arts.

The performance revolved around an Indian peasant girl, played by Rea, who goes through three different avatars. As the IFA project note explains, “First, she will appear in the form of a small string and rod puppet to express her lack of agency – a puppet controlled by external social forces. Giselle will also appear as a life-size puppet when she asserts her identity and experiences heightened emotions of love, turmoil, and madness. Finally, the dancer will depict the post-trauma Giselle. In this way, Varun and Rea hope to push the limits of both puppetry and dance and create multiple perspectives on the story of Giselle in an Indian context.”

The resulting visual spectacle was indeed a sight to behold which inspired me to shoot a mix of fluid and still shots to capture the show’s multiple perspectives. Considering I was starting out on my photography journey at the time, Giselle Ki Kahani was instrumental in inspiring me to create my signature style of “motion pictures” where the lines between stillness and movement are blurred.