Malaysia’s Odissi connect

“I was dancing on a stage with a thatched roof, in Kalakshetra, in front of my Bharatanatyam guru Adyar Lakshman for the first time. It was an open environment and I was revelling in bhakti — devotion of the purest kind. I thought it was such a privilege to dance in this city. This was way back in 1977...” Datuk Ramli Ibrahim recalls one of his earliest memories in Chennai.

Now, friends, fans and acquaintances are quick to envelop the Odissi exponent as soon as he finished discussing healthy eating at Goodness Gracious, an event organised by Spirit of the Earth and Aalap recently. Lined along the walls of the quaint Spirit of the Earth outlet are different varieties of heritage rice set in dispensable cylindrical containers. Samples of mapillai chempa, val sivappu and thooya malli; as well as cutlery made from palm leaves, add to the atmosphere.

The Malaysian artiste, with years of experience in ballet, Bharatanatyam and Odissi, among other forms, considers Chennai a treasure trove for artistes. He says everyone in the city invariably appreciates the arts. “It is believed that if you can make it in Chennai, you can make it anywhere,” laughs Ibrahim. His production Odissi on High, which is currently touring India, puts the dance form on a pedestal, through Ramli’s creative alliance with Guru Bichitrananda Swain, veteran Odissi performer, choreographer and founder of Rudrakshya Foundation. The production, Ramli says, “is a confluence of two paramaparas.” The artiste believes that modernity can exist within tradition. “I think I can function as a modernist within the tradition and I don’t meddle with the vocabulary. What is ultimately revisioned is the presentation, and the way the space is used,” he says, adding that most of his productions look at metaphors and allusions that suit contemporary situations. “Modernists (non-conformists) tend to have a more individualistic outlook, while tradition corresponds to a collective mind. But these new ideas can take place within tradition as well, otherwise it will remain static. A tradition that is static, will slowly die,” explains Ibrahim. Having said that, the artiste says that he doesn’t find himself “that avant-garde” either.

Malaysia’s Odissi connect

According to Ramli, juggling different genres at the same time is an organic journey. “There is no conflict when I blend two genres. Keeping each approach intact is key,” he says, briefly demonstrating the difference between Odissi and Bharatanatyam by emulating certain movements of the body. The approaches are starkly different, he reminds me.

While speaking of his creative process, Ibrahim says that anything can be a source of inspiration: but nothing beats the comfort of his own space, Sutra Foundation in Malaysia. “It is almost like a botanical garden, with a lot of trees, and my animals. I am a big animal person, you know,” he chuckles.

In the remaining few minutes, he concludes, “You can look at dance like a painting; you can look at it as completely abstract, where the body is saying something. Rasa is the bridge between artistes and the audience and it does not come only through the narrative of expression or words. It can also be an invocation, of other forms.”

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 8:53:16 PM |

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