Odissi dancer Sanchita Bhattacharya mesmerised the audience with her abhinaya and excellent footwork.

The Odissi segment of Abhinaya Sudha series was like the dessert of the three-day dance festive fare. Sanchita Bhattacharya took the wind out of our sails with her enchanting performance. For those of us watching her for the first time, scepticism was replaced by surprise and then wonder and finally adoration and accolades. A deceptively stodgy figure got melted in the process of dance and all we could see was the beautiful, bends and sways of Odissi, something of a boneless wonder. Be it her sancharis or pure abhinaya or the postures and footwork, she was a live version of the replicas of dancing girls adorning the temples of Konark. The pre-recorded music was an excellent accompaniment that we hardly discerned that it was not live.

The Dasavatar of Bhakta Jayadeva, Sanchita enters with a rigorous footwork which in varied styles preceded each of the avatars. Though the meena, kurma, varaha, etc. were depicted with beautiful abhinaya, it was the Vamana and Rama avatars, that excelled. The third footstep that the Lord disguised as a Brahmin dwarf confronts the despot King Mahabali, was the highlight of this piece. She went through the 10 avatars like a fish that swims across the ocean with ease.

Depicting the ‘Vatsalya bhava' (affection), the dancer launched into Braja ku chorao where she emulated the mother in Yashoda and the child in Krishna at the same time in ekaharya style. There is a theme to this piece: Yashoda is in the process of putting her dear child to sleep and Krishna like all little ones wants to keep wide awake. The various means that mothers adopt to lull the child into sleep like the mock threat that some demon would carry away babies who refuse to sleep; the closing of windows and doors to shut out light and create an illusion of darkness for the child to sleep; then rocking the cradle and singing a lullaby were depicted in detail with an abhinaya that transformed into the natural and real. Yashoda carrying her Krishna on the back was so lovingly depicted by Sanchita who dances with a stoop as if there is a child weighing down on her back and keeps darting glances over her shoulder lest he slips and falls. Kudos to the artiste who could delve into the deeper layers of emotive appeal with such charm and grace. Finally, we find her successfully putting her child to sleep in the cradle and tip-toeing out of the room and come back in a jiffy no sooner than she hears the audience' applause, just to tell us with her finger on her lips, not to disturb her sleeping child. This was the ultimate in abhinaya.

Ahey nilo saila was another striking piece of a different expression and Sanchita stole the show with this superb song that talks of Radha's state of bliss after her union with Lord Krishna. This highly erotic piece was handled with gracious dignity that neither dented the romantic aura nor allowed it to border on vulgarity. The artiste's abhinaya of Radha with her long tresses open and dancing about her neck, back and countenance, was portrayed with a perfection that we started getting illusions of black long hair of the dancer who had become Radha for a moment. Drawing a comparison to Radha's open hair to that of a peacock's tail, she strutted about the stage like a bird. The state of being of one (Radha) who has tasted the divine love in physical and mental aspect and is now yearning for total union with the Lord came out convincingly through Sanchita's dance and abhinaya. The fastening of Radha's waist belt by Krishna was shown in the tribhanga which looked fabulous.

Moksha the traditional conclusion of Odissi was like the diamond among the throne of gems. Extolling mother goddess Narayani in not less than six different postures to the sloka, Sanchita just took three verses from Durga Saptashati where she portrayed the mother of this universe as divine mother, a source of energy (Shakti) and a harbinger of peace (Shanti). Her figure swayed like a leaf when she moves over from one form to another making for the last statuesque depiction of the divine mother as embodiment of harmony.

Vidyadhari Deshpande did her abhinaya based on the idiom of Kathak. At no point of time, did she lose sight of her footwork, the essence of dance, in her attempt to give expression through mime alone. Though she did give us a glimpse of the facial and gestural abhinaya in Aise Shyam jagath hithkari, it was the expression through footwork that created ripples in her presentation. Her invocation of Mother Goddess through a series of bhol and echoing this through her feet and anklet bells was indeed captivating. The dances were hosted by Parampara dance and music forum at Lamakaan for two consecutive days.