Festival The annual Gunjan Dance and Music Festival showcased fine talent in different styles of music and dance. SHYAMHARI CHAKRA
The millennium city of Cuttack near Odisha’s capital city was the State’s cultural capital for centuries till Bhubaneswar gained prominence post independence.
With the focus shifting to Bhubaneswar, the vibrant cultural canvas of Cuttack lost its sheen gradually till a few committed artistes and arts institutions attempted to revive the lost legacy. Young Odissi dancer Meera Das was one among them.
For the past 16 years, Odissi dancer-teacher-choreographer Meera has been hosting Gunjan Dance and Music Festival in Cuttack annually through her Gunjan Dance Academy. The four-day festival that concluded on Tuesday was her latest treat for them.
Sponsored by Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, the festival featured three Mohiniattam soloists — Gopika Varma (Chennai), Ayswaria Warier (Baroda) and Sangeetha Iyer (Bengaluru). Gopika, the internationally known dancer, lived up to her reputation as a veteran dancer and choreographer.
Her first presentation based on a Maharaja Swathi Thirunal composition in Hindi — Bisweswar darshankar chal mann tum Kashi — bore her autobiographical touch as the choreographer. It was based on her personal experiences of a journey undertaken to Kashi following her parents’ death.
And coincidentally, she is married to the royal family of Swathy Thirunal and was in deep love with the particular composition of the poet-composer. Her other presentation of the evening, Draupadi , was an ode to Odisha. It was inspired by eminent Odia writer Prativa Ray’s popular novel Yajnaseni .
Though they performed their own compositions during different days, Ayswaria and Sangeetha had the same presentations of Kalidas’ Shakuntala that disappointed the audience. However, Ayswria’s articulate and intense portrayal of the character proved her amazing grip over expressional dance.
Disciple and daughter-in-law of veteran Kathak Guru Geetanjali Lal, New Delhi-based Vidha Lal was the show stealer of the festival this year. From the moment she made her entry, she set the stage on fire with her spectacular spins, exhibition of incredible body kinetic, stamina and control and left the spectators spellbound and hungry asking for more.
The three Odissi soloists, however, disappointed. While portrayal of the character of the fisherman-boatman who ferried across Lord Rama across the river by Naba Kishore Mishra, one of the senior male Odissi dancers and the newly appointed professor of dance for Utkal University of Culture, was mere melodrama; budding dancers Isha Satapathy and Shibani Parija — both belonging to host Gunjan Dance Academy — were immature in their expressions and dance.
On the other hand, the duets presented by Gunjan’s Malabika-Lopamudra and Puspa-Sasmita gave glimpses of their brilliance as potential dancers. Two budding male dancers from Bhubaneswar — Biswabhusan and Nirmal — also staged a neat duet.
In addition to hosting a festival and presenting her students in the festival, Meera premiered her latest production Meera , a dance drama in Odissi style.
And she was the centre of attraction in the production with her intense portrayal of the character that was love, devotion and passion personified. Similarly, a fitting finale to the festival was the fusion dance number presented by Meera, Gopika and mime artiste Madhu from Hyderabad. It was an impressive confluence of their craft and creativity.
The music segment showcased performances by three stalwarts of Odissi music — singer Shyamamani Debi, composer Ramahari Das and percussionist Dhaneswar Swain. Das and Swain staged their concert Mahodadhi in celebration of the legacy of Lord Jagannath.
The festival also hosted a seminar on dance and choreography, attended by dance scholar and historian Sunil Kothari, dancers Aruna Mohanty, Ileana Citaristi and Gopika Varma; professor Anurima Banerji from University of California and Los Angeles, scholar and critic Kedar Mishra and dancers Rahul Acharya (Odissi) from Bhubaneswar, Vidha Lal (Kathak) from Delhi and Janaki Rangarajan (Bharatanatyam) from USA.