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SHYAMHARI CHAKRA
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Dance Paris-based Odissi danseuse Devasmita Patnaik on her efforts to promote the dance form. SHYAMHARI CHAKRA

Poetry in motion Odissi dancer Devasmita Patnaik.
Poetry in motion Odissi dancer Devasmita Patnaik.

F or nearly a quarter of a century now, Odissi dancer Devasmita Patnaik from Orissa has been promoting this oriental dance form of her homeland in France. In fact, she is the first Odissi dancer to settle down in the French capital of Paris. And she is now set to host the first Odissi Utsav in France that would coincide with the silver jubilee year celebration of her dance institution.

Born in the pilgrims' paradise of Puri, Devasmita grew up in the southern city of Pondicherry, where she was sent for schooling at Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Here she met her husband-to-be Satyakam who was a Gujarati who had business in Paris. “Marriage brought me to Paris and it was my husband's inspiration that encouraged me to promote Odissi in France. He always felt that it was the duty of every Indian settled aboard to remain in touch with our roots and retain our cultural identity abroad,” revealed the dancer who trained under renowned gurus like Durga Charan Ranbir during her early life and later under Kelucharan Mohapatra.

When the couple arrived in Paris in 1986, the French people had the lone exposure to Odissi through a performance by Sanjukta Panigrahi, the doyen of Odissi whom her Guru Kelucharan had accompanied on percussion. “Bharatanatyam was familiar in Paris and people did not know anything about Odissi. So there was little interest and support for it then. To familiarise them with Odissi, I volunteered to offer lecture-demonstrations, workshops and performances at regular intervals that finally yielded good result after nearly a decade of sustained effort,” recollected Devasmita who was in Orissa recently in connection with the Odissi festival arrangements for France.

Along with her husband and daughter Shovna, who studies law in London but pursues a passionate interest in Odissi, the trio have set up a cultural trust Atma, that is based out of their house in Paris.

“Our home in Paris serves as a resource centre on Orissa's culture,” explained Devasmita, the festival director. “We have been regularly inviting and presenting Odissi exponents and dancers from Orissa. Gurus like Durga Charan Ranbir and Gangadhar Pradhan have visited Paris. Bhubaneswar-based Guru Bichitrananda Swain's internationally acclaimed Odissi troupe was presented in recent years. However, the Odissi festival that we are hosting in the near future would showcase glimpses of Orissan culture; so that the French people would understand how Odissi has been the cultural expression of a region.”

Our home in Paris serves as a resource centre on Orissa's culture.

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