Treat to the eye and ear

Sharmila Biswas Odissi. Photo: V. Ganesan.  

‘Chaturanga’, a production of Sharmila Biswas’s Odissi Vision and Movement Centre, showcased earnest teamwork on the stage in performance, and offstage in research, music composition and choreography.

The four segments dealt with nritya, swara, tala and sahitya, aiming to focus on the elements of Odissi as a classical Indian dance, while also making each part complete in itself. The approach also gave each a distinct flavour and identity of its own.

The setting was simple and effective – a backstage platform facing the audience, with musicians on the right, an English translator on the left, at times flanked by dancers with cymbals. Behind the central curtain stood dim-lit shadows, coming alive as the dancers made their entries.

Invocatory Mangalyam took its own rather long time to offer light and flowers to purify the stage, and prepare the actors and audience for presenting and receiving the aesthetic experience.

Swarvilas featuring raga Charukesi made minimal use of percussion – though mnemonics and cymbals were at play to provide an undercurrent of rhythms, the drum making its entrance at the end at second speed.

The six dancers – Sharmila Biswas among them - appeared in earth colours – maroon, orange and mustard cottons that struck an immediate chord of vibrancy. The dance, when it came, was both firm and limpid, every move planned and reflected upon to be more than superficially ornamental. It had to be, to maintain the kalapramana as the dancers did.

The flute made a fine companion on this swara adventure. Essentially simple as both dance and music were - Charukesi was undemanding – but movement and melody were maximised in appeal due to the visible enjoyment of the participants.

The final piece ‘Avartan Bibartan’ was even more obviously in the fun mode. Purportedly using Odissi talas and arasas imbibed from senior Odissi gurus, the essay began with calm moves accelerated to rollicking jumps and twirls. The use of sticks by the dancers who tapped out the beats on the floor between footwork added diversities for the eye and ear.

While these three segments remained at the level of attempts to go beyond the mundane within the ramparts of tradition, the third piece Katha Surpanakha made the leap into a fresh perspective on the familiar puranic character with a new interpretation suited to the modern temper.

Surpanakha is not a bizarre demon but a woman trying to find her identity and express herself fearlessly. This was female gaze turned upon itself in intriguing ways, the dancers switching roles by turns, the familiar traditional process of ornamentation becoming a part of this new self-discovery. Single-minded love and the anguish of rejection added to Surpanakha’s growth and dimensions, as she struggled to deal with the experience, new, unexpected, unknown.

As the character unravelled herself in movements both physical and psychological, the music rose and fell with the mood shifts, inseparable from the action.

In an experimental production like Chaturanga, the backscore has to become a character almost, and the team of Rajendrakumar Jain, Bijayakumar Barik, Suramani Rameshchandradas and Srinibas Satpathy handled many instruments as well as vocal needs, rising to the challenge of evocative simplicity.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 5:06:28 PM |

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