Those were the days when many critics believed that Odissi was a folk art!
Sonal Mansingh began her career as a Bharatanatyam dancer under U.S. Krishna Rao and Chandrabagha Devi, and her first ever performance in Madras was in 1962 at the Museum Theatre when she was seven.
It's only a few years later that she took to Odissi under the watchful eyes of Kelucharan Mohapatra. Ever since she has been an integral part of Chennai's dance scene and is regular at the December Season. She recalls her first Odissi performance:
“Those were the days when many critics believed that Odissi was a folk art! It was 1968 or 1969 when Y.G. Doraiswamy, a connoisseur of the arts, who had watched an Odissi recital of mine in Delhi, invited me to perform and do a lec-dem in Chennai.
The venue was the familiar Museum Theatre. A few minutes before the show was to begin, I peeped out to see who had come. And there sitting in the first row were Rukmini Devi Arundale, M.S. Subbulakshmi and Dr. V. Raghavan, among stalwarts! I had butterflies in my stomach.
“But once I got on to the stage, I let my dance speak. And with Kelu Babu (guru Kelucharan Mohapatra) playing the pakhawaj, my confidence levels rose. I presented the complete repertoire that evening… from the Mangalacharan to Moksha.
“After the recital, Rukmini Devi walked up to the stage and praised my performance and said, “I had no idea that Odissi was as classical as Bharatanatyam, if not more.” I remember it vividly even now.
“The other special moment was when I got the Nrithya Choodamani award in 1984 from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha.
“By then, I had done extensive research on the dance genre. I remember Jeevan Pani (poet and scholar and a dear friend) was with me. I presented new aspects of the dance such as Pala and Geeta Govinda. I unleashed a new chapter of Odissi. It was exhilarating... a truly fulfilling moment.”
(A column where artists recall performances/impressions that remain in their memory)