If you think you have seen this dynamic duo, Bijayini Satpathy and Surupa Sen from Nrityagram before, you have another thought coming. The Odissi dancers who have earlier floored Chennai with their glossy choreographies, seem to have switched track since; their style has acquired new depth and a new meaning.
With music composition by Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi, choreography by Surupa Sen and lighting design by Lyn Fernandez of Nrityagram, their repertoire followed the traditional Mangalacharan to Moksha pattern. However, subtle changes in the subtexts had been incorporated that gave them a whole new flavour.
For example, the opening prayer to Lord Jagannath in ragamalika (including the traditional Sankarabaranam sankirtan tune) with verses from ‘Krishnashtakam, was projected as a prayer of the wandering minstrels.
The dancers mimicked the male sankirtan singers and Mardala drummers with expansive arm movements and strong leaps, quite a departure from the usual feminine movements.
The piece was different as well, with new sounds of bols taken from the kartal (big cymbals) and the khol (clay drums).
The pallavi or pure dance item titled ‘Srimati' celebrated the sensuality and beauty of womanhood treating it as an offering to God.
In wonderful tunes of Misra Khamaj and Charukesi, set to threes, fours and sevens, the dancers spoke of beauty, grace and God through a kaleidoscope of movements and swaras. The abhinaya pieces performed as solos were well-developed, though one felt Surupa let go of the depth she had built into the ‘Yahi Madhava' ashtapadi with some stylish but ill-timed poses.
As the dancers navigated through the masculine, the sensuous and the expressive, one wondered about their combined energies that had created such poetic moments. But their best was yet to come. The finale, ‘Vibhaktha,' an ode to Ardhanareeshwara, based on Adi Sankara's Ardhanareeshwara Stotram was a masterpiece of visualisation.
The piece was designed as a quiet homage to the deity, highlighted through imaginative friezes, fluid role-play and shifting imagery of the gods and their facets, by dancers who trained their bodies with as much devotion.
How can this much devotion not be moksha? They deservedly got a standing ovation.