They presented a heady mix, in great style

It was rather pleasant under the stars as the ‘Festival of Music and Dance of Odisha’ got under way on the grounds of the Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Natak Manram. The cultural programme had a mix of the classical, religious and folk art forms performed by well-known artists from Odisha. It was organised by the Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu Manram.

Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee Guru Prof. Ramhari Das along with Guru Dhaneswar Swain on the mardal, presented Odissi music, considered one of India’s ancient classical styles. He presented prabhandas, one an ancient composition on rain, ‘Maare vaana dhaara shraavana ki’ (Sankarabarana, Ek taali) in the raga anga style that emphasised the different techniques in vocal delivery, and another in the naatya anga style (Khamas, Khemata) that is predominantly used for the Gotipua dancers. He also presented a Chhaanda, which is narrative-based and sung without taal. ‘Dhanur dhara veera hara,’ was about Sita’s disbelief and sadness when she hears that Raama has been killed.

Rich experience

The short timeframe made no difference to mature Odissi dancer Meera Das, whose Bilahari Pallavi (Ek taali) and Jayadeva’s Ashtapadi (‘Sakhi he’, Pahadi, Jaati taal) said it all. As a disciple of the legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and founder of Gunjan Dance Academy, Cuttack, her rich experience was visible.

The Pallavi was a beautiful piece full of grace and rhythm, and Meera’s footwork was admirable considering the hard cement flooring.

Radha’s description of her first tryst with Krishna, her tiptoeing out, her excitement and adventures on the way to the lonely forest hut, detailed with warmth a la Guru Kelucharan, were well-orchestrated while retaining an air of spontaneity, which can often be the bane of recorded music. Meera captured both Radha's fond memories and her current anguished state with easy fluidity.

The young Gotipua dancers (male dressed as female), aged between 8 and 15, presented by Guru Bijaya Kumar Sahoo from the Naksatra Gurukula, enthralled the audience with their sure-footedness and perfect timing. This dance form replaced the Devadasis in temple rituals many centuries ago and is a precursor to the re-constructed Odissi we see now, that retains style elements such as the tribhanga and chauka stances. Reformists such as Guru Kelucharan started out as a Gotipua dancer.

The nine boys opened with an Abhinay piece, ‘Devi Stuthi’ on Goddess Durga in Ahir Bhairav that was brisk with dance movements and poses of the goddess and her killing of Mahishasura.

The dancers moved as one body in perfect synchrony, as they struck poses representative of the theme. There was one frieze with the dancers in a back-bend with their tongues hanging out, just like the ferocious version of Durga is pictured.

The real acrobatic challenges came in the Bandha Nrutya in Bhairavi (Ek taali, Khempta) in which the dancers amazed the rasikas with back bends, cartwheels, leg splits, many-tiered poses of Radha-Krishna, Kalinga Narthana and Keli kadamba (holy tree under which Krishna was playing), balancing on their palms in Mayura Bandha and many others. What a treat! The audience responded with repeated applause.

The masterful presentation came to an end with Rasarkeli, a Sambalpuri Folk Dance presented by Guru Bipin Bihari Das and the girls of Sambalpur Kala Kendra.

One only wished that we had been more aesthetic hosts, without the ugly banners and tacky props that adorned the stage.