Not only is she a prominent part of Nrityagram but dancer Bijayini Satpathy has also chosen to live close to the gurukul for classical dance in Hessarghatta. Both these choices, she says, have defined her as a dancer.
“The beauty of the place, the generosity of the system, Gaurima [Protima Gauri, founder of Nrityagram] and especially [artistic director] Surupa were tremendous. I could almost see myself grow as a person and a dancer every moment,” Bijayini told The Hindu in an email interview.
“I understood my dance and what it meant to me for the first time. And that sense of fulfilment was everything I've wanted forever. I decided almost within the first two weeks of my being there, that if I was accepted (I wasn't sure as I was a borrowed dancer) that I would work at Nrityagram and build my home here.”
In the lap of nature
Curled up in the lap of nature, Nrityagram is what its founder Protima Gauri intended it to be — “a community of dancers in a forsaken place amidst nature”.
“When Nrityagram was built almost 22 years ago, it was more isolated. For 17 miles, till the eighth mile on NH4, there was only farm land and sometimes, village huts. To some of us who have lived at Nrityagram for a long time, that was the most beautiful stretch of a winding road amidst pure nature and rustic beauty. Gaurima used to say that she didn't have to look at the road for the speed breakers or steep bends to change gears or turn the steering wheel. They came at the right punctuations in the songs she would sing on that stretch,” said Bijayini
Training to the call of birds
A dancer's training at Nrityagram is modelled on the guru-shishya parampara, described Bijayini, which is a tradition where learning is holistic and a way of life.
The day starts with a walk and jog outside the gurukul.
“We walk 5 km to awaken our senses. We have noted about 65 bird species in and around Nrityagram, all at play in the early hours of the day. It is fun to quietly listen to their conversation and arguments and make meaning of it,” she said.
Then, the dancers clean an assigned part of the gurukul.
A session of body conditioning is followed by breakfast and two hours of basic Odissi practice.
Students of Nrityagram also engage in active gardening. “Each of us has a big patch to look after, along with a gardener. We supervise what and how things grow on that patch,” she explained.
There is time for individual practice and theory class, followed by rehearsals and three-hour training for seniors who are taught dances from the performance repertoire.
“At Nrityagram, we have been encouraged from very early on to be research oriented. Having had ample time to think and analyse the dance form, we realised that Odissi, because of its reinvention in the post-Independence period, is a very young form of dance and had tremendous need and scope for further evolution. We have been invested in probing its 2,000-year-old history through the study of temple sculpture and dance scriptures,” Bijayini said.
“We have also trained in the Natyashastra and used that information to inform our work. Using all this knowledge, we have evolved a basic vocabulary that encompasses every possible movement quality that exists in Odissi dance and have also created new movements that speak the essence of Odissi, but help push the boundaries,” she said..
Most of this would not have been possible if not for the location. “Things are very different now. The city has inched too close, too fast and too densely for our liking, even if it means ‘prosperity' for the rural areas,” she said.
But, the ambience at Nrityagram was “less threatened” because of neighbouring government institutions that had hundreds of acres of land at their disposal. “That creates a perfect buffer for us from the sound, visual, air and other pollutions that city brings with it. That is why this is the most ideal location that Gaurima could have chosen,” said Bijayini.