Sanjay Behera struggled against all odds to become a successful Odissi dancer and won this year's Naveen Kalakar National Odissi Utsav.
Like a dark horse, he claimed the coveted berth in this year's Naveen Kalakar National Odissi Utsav hosted in Bhubaneswar, the only festival of its kind that spots prodigies in Odissi dance. 22-year-old Sanjay Behera, whom no one had ever seen perform, emerged as the topper, beating 50 talents from across the country.
Sanjay's family had no links with performing arts; nor was there any freedom for the male child to choose dance as a career. Born and brought up in a non-descript village in the coastal Orissa district of Kendrapada, he had hardly any exposure to dance as well. “Whenever I watched dance on television, I had a secret desire to be a dancer. Father was dead against dance as a profession but my mother secretly allowed me to participate in the local dance competitions, performing either folk or modern dance numbers,” the aspiring dancer recollected.
It was a local dance competition that introduced Sanjay to Odissi. “I was competing in Sambalpuri folk dance section and there was an Odissi segment that I watched. The moment I watched Odissi, I fell in love with it,” remembered Sanjay who then pleaded with his father to allow him to join Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya (USM), Orissa's premiere college of performing arts in Bhubaneswar.
Even though his strict father finally allowed him to try his luck, without any experience in dance the college declined to accept him as a student. “I was fortunate that I got an admission into Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's Srjan Odissi dance institution in Bhubaneswar as a beginner,” he said.
At Srjan, he came under the tutelage of junior teacher Gitanjali Acharya, a young but immensely gifted dancer who has been groomed by the legendary Guru's disciple and daughter-in-law Sujata Mohapatra. Sanjay had his debut as a soloist in the Naveen Kalakar festival that crowned him with the best dancer of the year award, followed by a similar title from Akhil Bharatiya Samskrutika Sangha. “He dances from within unlike many of the male dancers who show off their body kinetic to impress the audience. Rarely have I come across such a gifted male dancer,” observed senior dancer Gayatri Chand.
What makes Sanjay feel on top of the world today is his father's acceptance and support. “I am really proud of him today. I hardly imagined that a boy can be a dancer and bring honour for the family”, confessed the father.