The Dhauli Kalinga Mahotsava that concluded recently in Odisha brought together a host of performances enjoyed by a diverse crowd

Mounted at the foothill of ancient Dhauili in Odisha since 2003 is the Dhauli Kalinga Mahotsava, where history and modernity meet in a five day celebration of performances reflecting the multiplicity of India with diverse streams of performing art — classical, folk and martial. Apart from the enchanting ambiance of the performance space with the historic backdrop of the tower of the Shiva temple on one side and the Peace Pagoda on the other, this festival, the brain child of late Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, now held under the aegis of Odisha Tourism with organisational backing by Odissi Dance Academy, also started by the guru, is unlike the elitist Konarak Mahotsava. More of a people’s festival, apart from spreading awareness of the site where Emperor Ashoka changed into an apostle of peace appalled by the brutalities of the Kalinga War, this festival — thanks to the dedication of the organisers — is involving the youth in institutions catering to various disciplines and degrees. Watching a young audience enjoy the proceedings is a most heart-warming feature.

Ruchi Buddha Samman was conferred on this occasion to the fine Odishan painter, visualiser and art collector Jatin Das. The festival had a visually arresting and meditative start setting the tone with Odissi Academy dancers moving in total symmetry with lighted lamp in hand to a “Buddham Sharanam Gachhami” chant. Aruna Mohanti’s choreographyof the Baramasai festival celebrations throughout the year as part of Odishan way of life — with fleeting glimpses of Akhyaya Titha, Chandan Jatgra, Raja Utsav, Ratha Jatra, Janmashtami, Ganesha Truti, Dussehra, Lakshmi Puja, Kartik Purnima, Adi Purnima, Maha Shivaratri and finally Holi before the cycle starts all over again — was one of the most tightly knit productions. Particularly noteworthy were the switchovers from scene to scene — the transition thanks to research work and poetic interventions contributed by scholar Kedar Misra with the choreographer’s sensitivity achieved with a smooth flow sans jerks. The fine group discipline and the immaculate dancing were added factors.

Watching the Kathak duet by Ranan Kolkata led by Vikram Iyengar, it was heartening to note how this dancer’s more open stance has increased the amplitude of movement making his movements more easy. “Bichitra” with Ustad Sabir Khan’s excellent music where ‘Om’ and ginti tihais came together with such harmony and melody in Keerwani and Laptak the tarana in five-and-a-half matras was racy. This was one of the instances in Kathak where the top musical ustads have composed for dance — a legacy handed over by Vikram’s guru Rani Karnaa, with her association with scholars like S.K. Saxena, whose Malkauns composition for Brindavan Ras presented by the group was evocative. All the dancers combined with practiced ease. And triwat, another of those items one rarely sees today, had the same Rani Karnaa touch of old -world elegance.

One facet of Sharmila Biswas’ Odissi is her ability to always surprise the audience with something unusual and ferreted out of the cultural heritage of Odisha, which she adapts to the classical Odissi idiom. While breaking new ground, the dancer, predictably, has to be prepared for responses both critical and laudatory. Inspired by the Devi Bharni ritual surrounding Goddess Samaleswari, for the mangalacharan (dancer Sharmil and student Neelay representing the possessor and the possessed dancing in tandem facing each other) detailed research by Sharmila with persons like Ghasiram Misra and Dukhisaham preceded the choreography. Of the three components of the ritual, two of the first components of Shola Bharni (referring to Shola Kala) were harnessed. The second component Malashree is sung in both 14- and 16-beat talas (scholars differ on this). The last part when the possessed devotee makes predictions was substituted by Sharmila with Sambalpur rhythms with its own vocabulary of bols to suit the invocatory tone. It was essentially an adaptation of a ritual for dance. The high point of the evening was the singing by Srijan Chatterjee in ‘Trikai’. That heavenly Kamas alap, enunciation of words conveying a total empathy with sahitya and the dancer’s movement showed an exceptional talent in action. The way the dancers moved was sensuous and the two formations on either side of the stage — one round the singer and the other round the mardal player Vijay Barik — made for unique designing, though one of the main dancers receded too far back getting lost near the outsize Buddha statue at centre of the backdrop. Since the stage is at a height where the feet are not always visible (till the gradient for seating is organised), one has to be cautious on how to use the performance area. In the Gitagovinda ashtapadi “Manjutarakunjatalakelisadane”, with the sakhi pushing Radha to unite with Krishna, with Sharmila as sakhi and a reluctant Radha perhaps there is still a lokadharmi touch in the shoves and pushes, which needs to evolve into stylised refinement.

Very finished in the dancers’ movements, with commendable synchronisation, Bharatanjali Trust from Chennai run by Anita Guha gave one of the really flawless performances of the festival in terms of presentation and planning of the programme. After the sprightly vandana to Muruga and Ganesh, the Ardhanariswara Tandava, presented by two dancers one behind the other, was superbly composed — the perfect coordination between the two dancers, with minimal gestural language reflecting the tandava/lasya contrasts in complementing attitudes. Kudos to Anita! The Annamacharya kriti followed by Tulsi Das’ “Thumak Chalata” showed the animated performers getting involved in the mood of the items. From here on to a tillana in Kapi, the crisp programme with not a dull moment drew rousing applause.

Mahodadhi, the drum/music orchestration offered by Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya composed by Dhaneswari Swain and Ramhari Das, though a trifle long, was very competently executed.

Durga Charan Ranbir’s Nrutyayan presented the dance drama “Baudha” — fitting the space and occasion. Though unexceptional, the trained dancers danced with grammatical correctness. The work tended towards melodrama at times.

Contemporary element

Bangalore’s Attakalari in a mélange of sequences from various productions gave a fine display and what is more, it was surprising to see the kind of enthusiastic reception given to Contemporary Dance. So too was the contemporary creation of Samudra Centre from Trivandrum, its main dance vocabulary derived from Kalaripayattu. Excellent movers, some of the presentation revolving round the theme of Water, was quite riveting dance wise. But in trying to catch the idea of man’s senseless pollution leading to an angry cosmos with water bodies becoming destructive in place of their natural nourishing avatars, there was a lack of clarity in communication. Madhu Gopinath and Vakkom Sanjeev need to streamline their production.

There was also Laudi Lok Nritya and one enjoyed the old vibes of Odisha’s Gitinatya Kanchi Kaveri from Godmecor Kendrapara.

Bijay Kumar Sahoo’s Gotipua troupe Nakshatra Gurukul showed themselves as Bandhanritya specialists, with the young boys making all kinds of daring combinations. Dushmanta Basa’s Santali martial arts, the informal and full-of-zip Gatka sword, shield and stick combat, the Sankadhwani Kala Kendra with its myriad pyramid formations while doing non-stop conch blowing, the young boys of Narendra Pattshani’s Shankirtan Mandali, the quaint Paik and Chhau face-to-face designed by dancer Ileana Citarishti added to the variety of fare. The two comperes, full of enthusiasm, need to cut out verbose trite talking in Odiya and learn the grammar of the English language.