Monday, October 1, 2012

An Evening Of Odissi

Young Odissi dancers of Bangalore
Yesterday I braved the rain and the crowds to reach a small auditorium for an evening of Odissi dance. Odissi, a relatively newly acknowledged classical dance form (from the south-eastern state of Odisha), is one of my favourite Indian dances.  Though considered one of the oldest Indian dance forms, and initially a secular dance form, Odissi was confined to temples for many centuries and it only stepped out of this enclosure about seventy years ago.  This was largely due to the efforts of a handful of gurus, whose desire to dance to a general audience and to teach this in its pure, classical as well as folk-derived forms, overcame the restrictions that were imposed on who could dance Odissi and where.  Currently, Bangalore, despite its distance (geographically and culturally) from Odisha, has a high density of schools teaching Odissi.

In an attempt to battle the weekend traffic and ensure that I could locate the place, I found I had arrived an hour early and hovered around near the door for quite a while. As I was one of the first to enter, I managed to be seated right next to the stage, which I always enjoy, as one gets to see the musicians and the dancers (especially their feet movements) up close.  One also gets to see the deity (in this case, Lord Jagannath, a form of Vishnu, worshipped in Odisha).

Lord Jagannath, a form of Vishnu worshipped in eastern India

The evening's programme was an overview of some dance schools of Bangalore and began with the youngest - children who were six and older.  They were all good dancers and one got a glimpse of tremendous promise and talent especially from some of the smallest ones.  Odissi is a very exacting style (like most classical dances).  However, it is especially hard for young dancers, I think, because it is largely based on depicting ancient poems, mythology and scenes from the walls of wondrously carved Odisha temples.  To be able to narrate all this requires a certain depth, imagination and maturity apart from training and ability.  Certainly, the children are given simpler sequences, but I could discern a certain confusion in the older (perhaps teenage) dancers, which is not surprising.  I guess they are trying to discover their form and style.  My aim is not to dissect the dances closely and critically; I find it interesting to observe different movements of the dancers and think about how their styles emerge.

The end of a wonderful performance by students
I was able to take a few pictures, but I realized that flash photography was not allowed, so I have no more images of the subsequent programme.  However, pictures would probably not do justice to dance and so I attach older utube videos to illustrate what I felt during and after the programme.

Much of the dancing was done in the style of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, who had trained a lot of students from outside the state.  His is a slow, soft, sensual style with many stances where the dancer looks as though she might be frozen into or just emerging from the wall of a temple.  Interestingly, Guru Kelucharan's own style was different from that of all his students (whom I have seen).  His own emphasis was largely on narrating a story in as expressive a way as possible.  He sometimes added stories to existing old tales, to incorporate an extra layer of drama or movements, and he easily played more than one role at a time in an inimitable fashion.

Yesterday's programme began, as all dances do, with a Mangalacharan, a prayer to the gods (in Odissi, it would normally begin with mother earth and then proceed to Ganesha or Lord Jagannath (Vishnu), however modern dancers often leave out the earth element, as was done this evening - the cost of stylization and urbanization!).  But it was a nice beginning anyway.  I attach below a picture of the children doing Mangalacharan, followed by an old performance of Mangalacharan by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and a recent one by his daughter-in-law, Sujata Mohapatra.  Sujata's style is traditional too and it is the style which all his students have imbibed (this video is about eight minutes and you need not watch the entire dance if you are not inclined to; watching about half (unfortunately, it begins with an advertisement) will give you a general feel for the movements and how they differ from Guru Kelucharan's own movements).


The other guru whose presence was felt, in a tremendous solo performance (by one of the organisers, Madhulita Mohapatra) was Guru Deba Prasad Das.  I like his style for its earthiness and emphasis on strong expressions of moods.  In this case, Madhulita depicted a scene from the poem 'Geeta Govinda', an old erotic-mystical composition in the bhakti tradition (where Krishna (a form of Jagannath) is worshipped as a lover).  This will need a section (or a blog) in itself to describe, so I won't get into details here.  This dance was the highlight of the evening and had everyone on edge, watching Madhulita showing an abandoned lover's grief which ended with her sitting disconsolately on the stage, tears flowing down her face.

Just to depict Guru Deba Prasad's style, I add here a link to a dance sequence by another talented Bangalore-based dancer, Sarita Mishra.  In this snippet, she performs the beginning of Geeta Govinda, a description of different avataras of Jagannath as he appears on earth to vanquish arrogance or evil.  As you can probably make out from these performances, Odissi is a dance which has the potential to reach out and touch you - gently, enticingly or passionately, invoking happiness, sorrow, love or awe as the dance proceeds.


Bastet said...

you might want to attend this performance by Nrityagram

They are very innovative with their performance, combining novel ideas with the grace of odissi dance.

Sujata Varadarajan said...

Thanks,I will look it up. I do enjoy Nrityagram's performances in the city.

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