Spotlight on Odissi
‘A mega event held recently in Malaysia met with an overwhelming response.
Photo: Suzanne Lee
Practice with passion One of the dancers at ‘Stirring Odissi’ held in Kuala Lampur.
An intense 26-day celebration of Odissi in Kuala Lumpur, ‘Stirring Odissi’, envisioned by passionately committed Malaysian dancer Ramli Ibrahim, aptly symbolised that art’s refined identity, addressing the spiritual core of man, transcends the divisive frontiers of nationalism, race, religion or caste. The spirited interaction through dance, seminar and exhibition with international Odissi practitioners, scholars, critics and dance lovers participating was a massive endeavour.
Juxtaposing the performance scene with visual art representation, showing the cross-pollination (Odissi gurus have been chitrakars) and ideational sharing between art streams was the exhibition in the manicured interiors of Galeri Petronas. Curated by Oriyan artist Dinanath Pathy and Malaysia’s Sivarajah Natarajan, the exhibits inspired by Odissi lyricism presented a wide range. Yeoh Jin Leng’s acrylic on canvas “Arise Apsara from the churning” and “Dance of the Gopis” with Malaysian figures evoking ‘rasa’, expressing dance as self realisation through the body were subtly illustrative. Very different was Dinanath Pathy’s bold depiction of globalisation ironies in “Vintage Odissi”, with the Odissi dancer performing on the bonnet of a vintage car, or “Rethinking in Odissi in the USA Destiny Lab” with tahia-adorned, pant-clad dancers!
The strong lines of A.V. Ilango and Jatin Das, the charcoal drawings of Utomo Radjikin, Loo Foh Sano’s evocative east-west inspirational blend in ‘Mirror of Gesture”, Orissa’s Ramahari Jena’s figurative painting and Jegannathan Ramachandran’s “Dashavataram”, with brilliantly colourful symbolism in myth, along with inspired moments caught by the lens of photographers Suzanne Lee, Chu Li, Eric Peris, Nirmala Karuppiah, Sivarajah Natarajan, Karthik Venkataraman and Iqbal Singh Saggu, among others, made for varied viewing. Missing was the historical perspective in Odissi, with pictures perhaps from Sangeet Natak Akademi’s archival collection.
The Seminar at Galleri Petronas with Indian scholars and dance writers highlighted various aspects of Odissi. Vimala Sundaram, in her focussed and brilliant talk, said supporting such global dance eventswould further the corporate cause of social responsibility. Devastatingly frank, Dinanath Pathy’s “Rethinking Odissi” at its caustic and humorous best had the audience in splits, while raising a few hackles with his remarks on Oriya versus Sanskrit text for Odissi, and emphasis on the sakhi nata tradition as central to Orissan dance history. Guru Gangadhar Pradhan’s demonstration highlighting the different Gotipua and Odissi treatment for the same Oriya lyric also underlined the reverse process in history with Gotipua now being ‘refined’ with Odissi influence, losing the old unspoilt innocence. Ashish Khokar’s dance documentation emphasis, screening rare and priceless snippets from Mohan Khokar’s archival collection, of young Ram Gopal dancing and old U.S. Krishna Rao talking, lacked Odissi focus.
The myriad solo performances at MTC auditorium were flagged off by Ramli’s student January Low’s Suryashtakam. Both the dancer and the singer — Sukanta Kumar Kundu — were in fine form. Aruna Mohanty’s Navarasa impressed, the musicality of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan’s mardala adding a special dimension. Madhavi Mudgal’s inspired Nataraja invocation to Maheswar Rao’s score of Mayadhar Mansingh’s poem found Manikuntala Bhowmick’s high-pitched singing robbed of sweetness. Sujata Mohapatra’s Varsha provided some of the crowning moments. Arushi Mudgal’s lyrical dancing notwithstanding, the Kha Champu music had excessive orchestration. Weight distracted the good dancing of Jyoti Srivastava and Mitali (U.K.). Compelling were Ramli’s students Revati Tamil Selvam in Ashta Shambhu and Tan Mei Mei and Nishah Devi combining beautifully in a powerful Dashavatar and evocative interpretation of the Oriya song “Muha Mohi”.
Nrityagram’s duo Bijayini Satpathy and Surupa Sen performing Sridevi evoked standing applause. Performing after a long lay-off with a fracture, veteran Minati Misra danced to taped music, the throb of late Balakrushna Das’s singing remaining unmatched today.
Amongst group expressions at the railway-depot-converted-into-state-of-the-art Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, Madhavi Mudgal’s “Pallavan” and “Aakar Prakaar” epitomised quietude with clean dancing and excellent lighting by Siva Natarajah. Sutra Dance Theatre’s “Spellbound” combined choreographic imagination with spectacle. In the same mould of presentational excellence, Sutra’s powerful “Dashamahavidya” with Guna’s possessed convulsions, raised the query of how much theatre could become dance. Impressive despite indifferent lighting was Sharmila Biswas’ sensitively innovative choreography for interpretative and abstract dance by Orissi Vision and Movement Centre, presenting Ramashtakam, Gopal and Abartan-Bibartan. The collective stillness of Nrityagram’s Shiva Ashtakam made a perfect ending. Srijan’s ‘solo-group’, Sudha Daivat Bibhas and Om, while excellently coordinated and neat, projected more araimandi stance than chauka. Bhubaneswar’s Debaprasad school forerunners like Guru Durgacharan Ranbir were conspicuous by their absence.
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