Bijayani Satpathy on why she wants to dance solo

Odissi exponent Bijayini Satpathy   | Photo Credit: Shalini Jain

Draped in a bright red handloom sari, a big red bindi on the forehead, hair neatly tied into a bun and a joyous smile lighting up her face, Bijayini Satpathy walked into Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai, for the ‘Dance For Dance Festival’ without Surupa Sen, her partner in creativity. It was unusual, for people have only seen them dance in unison for the past 25 years, mirroring and complementing moods and movements like no other performing duo. Surupa as artistic director and Bijayini as the principal dancer created incredible choreographic works in Odissi. They worked hard to nurture Protima Bedi’s vision Nrityagram, making it one of the most recognised dance institutions in the world. But a year ago, Bijayini decided to step out of this creative zone and embark on a solo journey.

Moving away from the foyer of the auditorium that was teeming with dancers and dance lovers at the Kalavaahini Festival, where she performed to a packed house, she spoke about stepping back from a long collaboration and rediscovering herself.

“The decision wasn’t easy. I had to push myself hard to make it since I was yearning to find the dancer in me on my terms. I wanted to explore the untouched dimensions of my artistry. It was not external validation I was seeking; I needed internal validation.

“I view my decision as both a spiritual and artistic pilgrimage and one has to do the parikrama alone. Nrityagram is home. Its doors will never close for me, I can go back anytime,” she says, her large, expressive eyes conveying the emotion impeccably.

Bijayini had been mulling the move for over 10 years. Every time the thought crossed her mind, the responsibility of the institution that shaped her into the magnificent dancer that she is today would deter her from going ahead. “I owe so much to Gaurima (Protima Bedi) and wondered if I would ever be able to isolate myself from Nrityagram. At the same time, I realised that if I didn’t do it now, it would be too late. I will be 50 in a few years. Dancers’ life on stage is determined by their body, their singular vehicle of communication. At some point, they have to come to terms with ageing and aches. I panicked that someday when my body gives in, I shouldn’t be traumatised by unfulfilled creative desires. So I have set out with passion, hope and dreams for company,” says Bijayini.

Bijayani Satpathy on why she wants to dance solo

After a six-month tour of the U.S., where her performances came in for rave reviews, accompanied by extensive interviews, she is back in India to participate in Chennai’s Margazhi festival. She will be performing solo for the first time at the Music Academy Dance Festival (January 8, 2020), which has often featured the Nrityagram ensemble.

“I am gradually coming to terms with my solo being, practising on the rooftop studio at my house near Nrityagram that I share with my husband.”

Bijayini is also learning to handle every little detail, from availability of the musicians to checking if tickets have arrived and arranging meals to looking into accommodation.

“At the institution I was cocooned in every way. Somebody was taking care of all these tedious jobs while Surupa designed productions into which I had to fit myself in. I am even writing to organisers of festivals to be invited to perform. It is a lot of work, yes, but I am happy I have the energy to deal with it,” says Bijayini, who will be conducting workshops in Odissi in Chennai after spending the New Year with her family in Bhubaneshwar.

As Nrityagram’s director of training and outreach, Bijayini developed an integrated physical conditioning for practitioners of Indian classical dance, particularly Odissi. It blends her knowledge of yoga, kalaripayattu, Western fitness techniques and kinesiology. “I continue to research and work on this aspect since it is important for dancers to prepare and preserve their body. At my workshops and training sessions I insist on looking at dance beyond movement and mime. The strengthening routine should be made part of the training vocabulary,” she points out.

Bijayani Satpathy on why she wants to dance solo

As a soloist, Bijayini feels her perspective of the artform has also changed. She has begun to draw differently from all that she has imbibed as a dancer and teacher. She is relooking at tradition for newer interpretations, exploring ancients texts, revisiting the timeless works of the legendary Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra.

“Of course, Surupa’s pieces will also be part of my repertoire. I have grown artistically with them. All her choreographic works were first mounted on my body. We have shared every moment of the creative process. So the connect and resonance will remain always,” says Bijayini.

After her early training at the Orissa Dance Academy in Bhubaneshwar, when she decided to join Nrityagram in 1993 after being selected in an audition by Protima Bedi, her parents refused to let her go.

“They wondered why should I leave Bhubaneshwar to train in Odissi at a residential school near Bangalore. But I persisted because I was looking at the holistic training and perfect ambience that Nrityagram offered. It was as difficult a move as the one I have made now. Sometimes, in life, one needs to stand and stare, of course at the sky, stars and trees, but also within to bring out one’s best,” she says.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 10:57:59 PM |

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