Striking grand poses
SHILPA SEBASTIAN R.
The Mayurbhanj dancers seek inspiration in nature
SPECTACULARThe performers worked out some breathtaking patterns Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.
When the clock struck eight, that wintry evening on National College grounds in Bangalore, there were drumbeats and the blowing of konch, bringing to memory the Kurukshetra war. There was a connection though, between Kurukshetra and what was happening at the venue. They were both part of the Mahabharata, of course displaced in time, the former part of the epic and the latter, part of a festival. The weeklong Mahabharath Utsav had a spectacular performance by the Mayurbhanj Chhau performers, a folk form from Orissa.
The male dancers made a dramatic entry on stage, with movements extremely vigorous, yet replete with grace, and the dancers moved in perfect co-ordination in leaps using martial arts movements. With crisp music and perfect choreography, the dancers presented various war-related sequences from the epic Maharabharata starting from Gurukula Sadhana, which had the Pandavas and the Kauravas entering the gurukula to train themselves in the varied martial art forms. From here they went on to depict how the conflict grows between the Kauravas and the Pandavas and the beginning of the war. Then came the "Gita Dance" where the Bhagavadgita was briefly described and was followed by the Chakravyuha, which stole the show with its intricate movements and finally the "Nataki" where the Pandavas rejoiced their victory. The last item was special to young dancers as aged gurus came on to join their younger counterparts.
Chhau dance is from the eastern part of India, which originates as a martial art. Vigorous movements and leaps dominate this dance form. Most movements depict that of birds and animals, which is a distinct feature of the art. Originally, only men took to this martial art form but now there are even women who have ventured into it.
History also says that kings of Mayurbhanj like Maharaja Shriram Chandra Bhanjdeo and Pratap Chandra Bhanjdeo, composed the famous war-dance which was presented in 1912 at Calcutta in honour of George V., the British emperor, who got dazed by the beauty and splendour of Mayurbhanj Chhau.
It is interesting how this form got the name Chhau. According to some studies this martial art form got its name as the mask "bears six parts of the face forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks, lips and chin".
According to another school, the word Chhau means mask and because the dance is performed by use of mask, it is called Chhau Dance. Another school of thought maintained that the word Chhau is derived from the Sanskrit word chhabi, which means image or picture.
There are three styles of Chhau Seraikella, Purulia and Mayurbhanj. Mayurbhanj Chhau dancers do not wear masks but the face doesn't break into any expression either throughout the performance.
"Mayurbhanj Chhau has become popular as a medium of choreography, with its wide range of postures and movements that adapt well to modern as well as traditional treatment," said Alekh Bisse, one of the gurus who choreographed this dance for the Utsav. "The grammar of Mayurbhanj Chhau comprises six chalis or topka (basic steps) and 36 uflis (jumping movements).
These chalis and uflis are based on rural household activities, behaviour of animals, and birds and war actions," said Ajai Paitha, the other guru who was also involved in choreographing the piece.
He continued: "We come from a tradition where we do not narrate any story but simply depict the various warrior movements set to music. This is the first time we have choreographed the dance and even composed the music for this Utsav, he added.
"We even set up this whole piece in just 20 days which also included the music," announced Alekh proudly.
However, the costumes were ballet like for some of the characters. It was a disappointment when it came to characters like Bheeshma or Krishna. One would have appreciated innovations and moreover, a dancing Bheeshma looked out of place with a huge headgear and a grey beard.
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