“I do not want to be clever. It will be very simple, just a perfect turn is sufficient,” says Odissi exponent Bijayini Satpathy, when asked about conceptualising and choreographing her latest solo work, ‘Call of Dawn’. “I am not resorting to the typical movements of Odissi. It has a rich vocabulary. I am allowing my body to flow with the music.”
‘Call of Dawn’ binds together three musical pieces in raag Ahirbhairav. A verse penned and composed by poet-musician , Kazi Nazrul Islam forms the central piece of the performance. The poet speaks in the voice of a young girl who does Shiva puja to get the husband of her dreams. She wants someone who is not as radiant as Shiva but more approachable like Krishna. “Nazrul was a poet during the Indian independence movement. So, when he is giving voice to a young, unmarried girl, he is actually pushing for the voice of women. He wants that they should be able to choose their life partner. It’s an important historical moment to register,” says Bijayini.
As a preface, the dancer explores the ideas of feminine and masculine and how the temple imageries influence the young girl’s imagination in the segment, ‘Oned’, based on Adi Sankaracharya’s Ardhanariswara Stotram. “By playing the role of the man and the woman in intimate situations, she gains confidence and strength to stand up for her choice in the Nazrul geeti,” explains Bijayini. ‘Oned’ has been composed and sung by Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy, who has also sung the other compositions.
While collaborating with Bindhumalini, the dancer recalls an interesting moment. “She sang one particular melody many times. At one point, it created the imagery of a champa flower falling from the tree that I catch before it reaches the ground. The performance ends with joy of the impending union conveyed through a Chakravaaka pallavi set to music by Sukanta Kumar Kundu. Srinibas Satapathy has arranged the music.
The team has ensured that the performance lends itself to the camera. Bijayini performed each piece twice to not lose the flow between the adavus. It has been shot from seven different perspectives, with three cameras, by Mahesh Bhat, who has also edited the film. Sujay Saple has helmed the light and stage design. There are technical challenges when you record a performance on camera. “I may be dancing with all energy, like you do on stage, but it doesn’t come through entirely in the video, which makes it appear light and soft. So the movements have to be executed differently to create that impact.”
After 13 years of training in Odisha, Bijayini joined Protima Gauri’s Nrityagram as the principal dancer of the company and also served as the director for training. Bijayini, through her duets with dancer and choreographer Surupa Sen, has experienced how the latter has expanded the boundaries of Odissi’s vocabulary. From 2019, she has been chartering her own journey as a solo dancer and choreographer. “I am finding my own language. It takes a few creations to know what my niche is. I will be grateful if it keeps evolving.”
Bijayini’s practice sessions in her breezy terrace studio have intrigued the dance fraternity, which finds her multidisciplinary approach to preparing the body unique. She was introduced to this approach at Nrityagram, where Gaurima, as she reverently calls her guru, would invite dancers and trainers to hold workshops on different physical fitness practices for the students. This, combined with her own research later, helped her develop an integrated physical conditioning for Odissi/ Indian classical dancers, which blends Yoga, Natyashastra, Kalaripayattu, Western techniques, traditional Odishi warm-up exercises, anatomy and kinesiology. “It helps prepare the body for any Indian classical dance. It works on flexibility, endurance, balance and alignment.”
The making of ‘Pranathi’
In ‘Pranathi’, another new choreography envisioned by Bijayini and performed by her three students, Prithvi Nayak, Akshiti Roychowdhury and Malavika Singh, the dancer reimagines the works of Odissi stalwart Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, as mainly duet and solo. Music composition is by Pt. Bhubaneswar Mishra and lighting and stage design by Sujay. The video has been shot by Eshna Benegal and Bornil Anurag.
“There is so much intelligence in his choreography. I get very excited about it. I can almost hear the movements he is imagining; sometimes there is stillness in movement and sometimes movement in pause. I am trying to find where the suspended moments are. I had fun playing with the choreography. It has given me a different perspective to understand the Odissi vocabulary; Guruji might or might not have seen it this way, but I am seeing new things in it through this process of re-staging.”
The pandemic has become a time for creative reflection for the dancer. It has also shown the relevance art holds for daily life. “I feel that the arts give us access to other parts of our being that are in other realms, probably philosophical, spiritual, sensitive, open and free, things we are not in our regular lives. And those experiences make living desirable.”
(‘Call of Dawn’, commissioned by Sampradaya Dance Creations, will première on May 8 at 7.30 p.m. on Shaale. Pranathi, commissioned by ChitraKaavya Dance, will be showcased May 14 to 18. )
The author is a theatre artiste and freelance writer.