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Posture and poise

Odissi is her life. All else is secondary for Madhavi Mudgal

Photo: K. Gajendran

NO HEAVY kohl-lined eyes, no chunky silver jewellery, no sari flashing loudly the textile heritage of our country and no theatrics and wild gestures that often accompany the conversations of her ilk. Madhavi Mudgal, Odissi danseuse clad in a red and black ikkat sari and silver earrings wears a warm smile that frames her friendly face. This high priestess of dance, who holds centre stage in her performances is bafflingly unadorned in manner when she speaks.

Daughter of the late Prof. Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, the founder of the famous Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi's most highly reputed institution for the teaching of Hindustani music and classical dance, Madhavi grew up trained in the nuances of Bharatanatyam and Kathak. "I had music in my genes but I took to dance." But it was Odissi to which she was introduced when she was 16 that was to become the undisputed love of her life. All else came a distant second. Tutored by Pt. Kelucharan Mohapatra, Madhavi who now teaches Odissi at her father's institute says, "At least in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, Odissi's place in the order of culture is comparable to any other. Despite its late revival in the 1950s, Odissi's subtle, lyrical and unexplored form has opened up opportunities to the deeply committed disciple."

Defending the religious origins of classical dance and its place in a secular world she says, "Dance touches the realm of spirituality and yet should involve the spectator. Expression involves the soul and invoking rasa is the essence. We pursue it for ourselves. Tradition is formed only when it changes and includes inputs from every generation. Freedom comes from a binding. The classic is always contemporary."

But she is one worried lady when asked of the standard and direction in which dance education is taking in India. "People are in a hurry to teach," she says "and in a hurry to learn. In an age of instant gratification, the soul of a culture is bound to suffer."

Dancing is life

So when does Madhavi put on her dancing shoes? Or does someone so proficient still need to practise everyday? "I'm unhappy if I don't dance. I feel my day is wanting. But yes I have to force my students to do so," she laughs. "My own style has so much to give me although I have performed jugalbandis with Alarmel Valli and Leela Samson."For her contribution to the art, Madhavi has received the Sanskriti Award and the President of India's award, the Padma Shri besides the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. Fascinated by India's textile heritage she mourns the fact that saris are slowly going out of style in urban India. When asked about the new genre of film dancing she says, "It hurts my aesthetics. But to each his own."

Engaged in writing a book on the principles of Odissi she says, "There is a lacuna of Odissi basics. And there remains a tendency for our connoisseurs to portray all things classical as difficult."

To bring the art of the patrician to the plebeian remains her life's quest.


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