It was heartening to attend the seminar on Odissi that took place in Cuttack — the town that was once the vibrant headquarters of the art.
Visiting Cuttack in Odisha, years after Annapoorna Theatre and the three great dance gurus began restructuring what came to be known as Odissi dance, with frenetic activity surrounding the establishment of the first institution for teaching Odissi, Kala Vikas Kendra, one sees Gunjan Dance Company under the stewardship of dancer Meera Das as the lone Odissi teaching institution along with survivor Kalavikas Kendra. With all activity having shifted to the capital Bhubaneswar as in most states, one is happy that the seminar on a complicated subject like “Modernity as theme and text for Odissi” elicited some interest in youngsters. Despite Meera’s painstaking work, barring adoring parents coming to watch their child dance, there is little of public interest in Odissi.
Audience worries meant clubbing the students dancing in what was more like a Gunjan Annual Day function with a festival involving invited established dancers from outside. Not surprisingly, Meera’s festival of dance and music was a mixed bag of high talent with promising young learners displaying their prowess. Once the youngsters had finished performing with family members leaving, even fine artists like Aruna Mohanty performed to a depleted Saheed Bhavan auditorium.
Taking simple hymns, Meera’s movement visualisation, with uncomplicated gestures and footwork for the youngsters, was executed with tremendous enthusiasm, compositions built on pure rhythm coming off better than the interpretative items. Her narrative for “Sree Rama Bhakti Katha” did not go beyond a superficial translation of words into dance, and elaboration of the poetic content was missing. As a solo ekaharyalasyanga with Meera taking on various roles, the work would have done better. Again one realises the compulsions of how dance institutions in providing a platform for all students, no matter how junior, also make the work border on the simplistic, for the audience to follow. The second aspect of the dance drama type of work was the minimal presence of Odiya poetry. With works like Vaidehi Vilas and several other Ramayana texts, the over-dependence on Tulsidas could have been less.
Nakshatra group provided excellent Gotipua Banda Nritya. Among the guest artists, the young pair of Ramesh Chandra Jena and Madhumita Mohanty provided an excellent Odissi duet, the space understanding and coordination showing how long practice with good technique can create riveting work.
That new creations need scholars, musicians, and fine dancers collaborating could be seen from Aruna Mohanty’s “Vishwa Prakash” based on tribal poet Bhima Bhoi’s poetry. With guidance from Kedar Misra poet/commentator, Gopal Panda’s evocative music composition and Vijay Kumar Barik’s rhythmic inputs with vocal support by Roopak Kumar Parida, what Aruna choreographed had classical depth with communicability drawing from her abhinaya sensitivity. The theme of a world of beauty and variety made by the creator, with equality as the motto, sullied by man who has brought in class differences of every type spelling inequality and unhappiness, had such a contemporary resonance. And how suggestively Aruna caught ideas in dance images — both rhythmic and in abhinaya!
Bharatanatyam dancer Ganna Smirnova, while correct and pleasant (no mean achievement for a Russian to master our art) needed more passionate conviction in the abhinaya. The other Bharatanatyam exponent from Bangalore, Poornima Ashok, has a very mobile face for abhinaya and neat pure dance. The first meeting of Rama and Sita was evocative with music by Janhavi Jayaprakash. “Tani Avartanam”, her own composition, had some memorable moments. But in the nritta, while the 9,7,5,4 and 3 rhythmic arithmetic was well brought out, Kiran Subramaniam’s too full of ‘sollus’ nattuvangam like mridangam jatis, did not always match the dancer’s very minimal movement/rhythm translation, leaving many of the mnemonic sounds unarticulated.
A tala vadya and an orchestral interlude were also part of the festival. Meera’s lone soldiering needs commendation.