Odissi exponent Sharmila Biswas on the legendary Kelucharan Mohapatra, and the importance of allied art forms in classical dance
Sharmila Biswas, recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award of 2012 for Odissi, has taken long strides in the dance genre of her choice. A disciple of the legendary guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, she has taken great pains to get to the roots of Odissi, which has led her to research the styles of dance prevalent in the temples of Odisha. This has taken her, time and again, to Odisha to learn the diverse vocabulary of Odissi’s allied art forms. She has studied at great length the art of the temple Mahari dancers, besides taking up training in the various folk and ancient tribal dance forms of the State. She has also learnt the musical traditions of Odisha.
Kalanidhi Narayan has trained her in the art of abhinaya. Sharmila believes that classical dance does not exist in isolation. Her institution Odissi Vision and Movement Centre is a one-of-its-kind dance school. Excerpts from an interview:
What made you choose dance as a your career?
Dance was always my passion. I was fortunate to discover this passion early in life and also the fact that I cannot live happily without dance. And so the decision to pursue dance came naturally, and it became my career. Actually, I think I will be a student of dance all my life.
Between age 8 and 14, I had the opportunity to learn the basics of all classical dances. Then I saw Odissi. And I knew instantly that this was what I wanted. Probably due to the fact that I am Bengali, I could identify with the form, language and expressions of Odissi.
How did you choose your guru?
While finishing studies and learning Odissi from a neighbourhood class, I saw a lecture demonstration of Guruji at padatik elaborating mainly the basic technique of Odissi. The beauty of the form and science behind the technique were so clearly explained by Guruji that I decided then and there to become his student.
What inspired you in choreographing new pieces?
My Guruji taught me to understand his creative work. His process of building the form brick by brick through studies of different art forms inspired me. I realised the need to understand the other art forms of Odisha. My love for exploring the traditional artistes in the different fields connected to dance draws me to Odisha. This activity makes my dance rich and it also fulfils the dreams and realises the creativity of indigenous artistes. I aspire to make my dance reach out to all sections. Our classical dances are elevating and a storehouse of our heritage; they are not merely a cluster of movements and expressions.
What were your feelings when you came to know that you would will be getting the award?
My joy knew no bounds. The thought was exhilarating. It has put a spring in my step. My son has been taught to be grateful for the gift of dance. The august company at the Durbar Hall in Rashtrapati Bhavan had a humbling effect on me. I thought of the innumerable artistes living in remote nooks and corners of the country, in dire financial stress, doing their work silently without any expectations or recognition. I got my serious breakthrough in 1986 when I performed at “Natya Parva” organised by SNA. My Guruji said, “You’ve had the best ‘Manchpravesh’ that one can expect.” In 1988 again I got a chance to dance at the young dancers’ festival, where I felt I had not danced to my contentment. The idea got me more immersed in my work as a dancer. The support I got from my well-wishers as well as my husband and mother-in law, helped me grow as a dancer.