An evening dedicated to the art of Gotipua, and another event paying homage to Shankaradev, the celebrated philosopher, artist and reformer, provided fare out of the ordinary

Sponsored by Odissi dancer Ranjana Gauhar’s organisation Utsav, it was a unique evening at the India International Centre, of Gotipua, the 17th Century tradition of Odisha, where young pre-teen boys portray sakhi bhava, dance in female garb, as propounded by Ray Ramananda and Saint Chaitanya. What today has assumed a spectacular dimension comprising much physicality with acrobatic asanas, was a rich tradition where both the lasya and the tandava aspects of the dance, along with rich poetry of innumerable lyrics composed by Odisha’s legendary composers like Kabisurya Baladeva Rath (1780-1845), Gopalakrishna (1884-1861) and Banamali who belonged to around 1720, comprised a very varied repertoire. Unfortunately, with Odissi becoming so prominent, Gotipua, which provided the technique base to the re-structured classical form, has lost its place in the scheme of things — with youngsters after years of training as Gotipuas having to struggle for a livelihood. A measure of the kind of discipline these youngsters went through could be seen from watching the above-60-year-old Bhagirathi Mohapatra. By no means a young face, scanty grey hair tied into a bun at the back, missing teeth — nothing made any difference to the enticement of the dance. Twinkling feet and lilt in his movements, a body which moved like a 16-year-old, and a shy/ seductive look with twitching lips showing ‘lajja’ the way one does not see it today, made the performance one of its type. “Sakhi mu lajemali” (Sakhi, I was overcome with shame and shyness) confesses the nayika in the song referring to Krishna.

In the Bidayi (farewell) geet “Jauchi Bandhu” when the Gotipua in the traditional fashion takes leave of his audience, urging that he not be forgotten, loud responses from the audience reassured one that there was no fear of that happening.

Nakshatra, a group of Gotipua dancers trained under Lingaraj Barik, presented a most entertaining group performance of songs of Upendra Bhanja, Banamali, and other poets. Their nritta done with perfect control was to the “Sa Re Ga Ma” pallavi or Swarapallavi. The pain of separation from Krishna had an innocence in the abhinaya of these young boys in the lyric “Kahibu duti chitta choranaku eteka go”. The Chandan Jatra favourite “Dekho go sakhi, Radha Madhav chali” was rendered in perfect group discipline, a feature of these youngsters.

Another lyrical song saw the gopis complain that whether in the past, present or the future, Krishna’s flute always sounded as if playing the word Radha! “Bajilani, Bajibo, Bajuchi Lo Rajiba Laya bansi sware to hari Naan”. The speed at which movements were performed retaining a finish, was surprising. As for the Bandha Nritya, these boys are like boneless wonders.

Homage to Shankaradev

At Azad Bhavan ICCR organised a Shankardev Utsav presented by Pratishruti Foundation of Mumbai. The start of Dhemali by artistes of Shri Kamalabari Sattra was excellent. What followed were compositions of Shankaradev presented in different dance forms of Odissi, Mohiniattam, Bharatanatyam and Sattriya. The procession of all dancers to the Haribol chanting came as a refrain after every scene, providing a link in the sequences. Jheelum Paranjepe began with little Krishna’s tussle with the gopis, “Guarini koi hamari suno kalanke”. With the Odissi mardal chipping in with ukkutas and Satchikanta Rath’s singing, the Odissi tenor seemed to move smoothly.

Mandakini Trivedi’s Mohiniattam interpretation of “Braja ramani sange khelata gopal” communicated in terms of abhinaya, though it was surprising that the Mohiniattam andolika was hardly visible in her movements. Anusree Bonnerjee’s Bharatanatyam had teermanams, which did not go with the flow or rhythm of the song and stood out like sore thumbs. Her movements were a mixture of clean lines and not very visible araimandi and slurred Kitataka Tarikitatom movements. Even the Sringar in the abhinaya did not come through pointedly. Prateesha Suresh’s Karuna rasa portraying Krishna’s miraculous cure of Sairandri’s hunch (she was Shoorpanakha in her earlier avatar) was rendered with feeling, though there was not much nritta.

The effort requires more work. The simultaneous exhibition of masks, a very important aspect of the Sattriya Bhaona, was most interesting.