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Chhau wonders

Gopal Prasad Dubey, an exponent of Chhau dance, was in the city recently. A tête-à-tête with the maestro.


WHAT DO Shyam Benegal's `Bharat Ek Khoj', Ramanand Sagar's `Uttar Ramayan', Amol Palekar's `Mrignayani' and A. K. Bir's `The Last Vision' have in common? All these works have Gopal Prasad Dubey performing and choreographing Chhau.

An exponent of Seraikella Chhau, Dubey has transformed this traditional art form into one that blends with modern choreography. He was in the city this past week to perform Chhau along with artistes of the Chhaya Academy of Arts, Mumbai.

Dubey believes in continually experimenting and innovating with Chhau. The dance form, which was once relegated to the realm of `tribal dance', is now being promoted and performed before an international audience. "To promote art, one has to create something anew, while retaining the traditional form. Change is the only constant phenomenon in life, so I try to reinvent Seraikella Chhau even as its essence is preserved," he says.

His grandfather was an actor at the court of the then king, Vijay Pratap Singh. "My grandfather was close to the king's brother, Aditya Pratap Singh Deo, who was a good choreographer. It was they who brought about inherent changes in Seraikella Chhau performance and gave it royal patronage."


Chhau was protected and promoted within the precincts of the royal court of Seraikella. As a child, Dubey would accompany his grandfather and watch artistes perform in the royal court. His fascination for dance and acting grew and then began his tutelage under Natasikhar Banbihari Patnayak and Kedarnath Sahoo and later, Suddendra Narayan Singh Deo. "It was sheer perseverance that saw me through those formative years," recalls the artiste. Scholarships and fellowships in India and abroad widened his horizons.

"Constant practice is crucial not only to make sure the esoteric symbols of this art form remain fluid and lyrical, but also to make sure the artiste remains aware of his roots and tradition," says Dubey.

Chhau uses neither spoken words nor songs. It is the mask and headgear, the music, the attire and most importantly the dancer's expertise that form its core. "A green mask with big eyes and teeth, thick eyebrows and hair denotes the figure of a demon. One with delicate eyebrows, small eyes, fine lips denotes a human being," he points out.

Themes dictate the accessories and the body language of Chhau, with the masks generally portraying the sthayi bhava (permanent state of mind) and physical movements unfolding the sanchari bhava (fleeting states of mind).

"There are around 110 themes, but I have learned only 95," says the dancer who has been performing Chhau for 35 years now. "Bandir Swapno' (Captive's Dreams), penned by Rabindranath Tagore, is a popular theme. `Bannabiddha' is another," says Dubey. One of his favourite pieces is `Mayura Nritya' (Peacock Dance). As he dons a garb trimmed with peacock feathers, and a delicate pastel coloured mask, he transforms himself to the bird.

"When I perform like a peacock, I think and feel like one. This is when the mask comes to life," he says.

SMITHA SADANANDAN

Photos: S. Mahinsha

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