Friday Review

The accidental love for Odissi!

Gudrun Martins.

Gudrun Martins.   | Photo Credit: 17dfr gudrun martins2

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German Odissi dancer Gudrun Martins feels comfortable when she is judged for her performance and not her appearance.

Watching the delightful performance of the German Odissi dancer and teacher, Gudrun Martins at the Gurukrupa Nrutya Samaroha, 2016, Bhubaneswar, necessitated speaking to this ardent enthusiast and admirer of Odissi. The tall Gudrun has a striking stage presence and understands the mechanics of the steps lending grace in her execution and charm to her rhythmic movements.

Excerpts from a chat:

How did you start learning Odissi?

Odissi was accidental. I come from a very small town Wilmhelm’s Haven at the German coast and there was no idea of Indian dance at that time. The most exotic dance you would find there would be Oriental dances like the belly dancing. From there I moved to Frankfurt to train as a tailor but my heart was with dance. It was in the 90s when I was nineteen and I saw an advertisement for classical Indian dance performance and a workshop –– that was in Kuchipudi. It was the group of Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. I never heard of that before. So I went to attend the workshop to know what it is. I was stunned because Indian dance incorporates facial expressions, which had no place in training of the face and body (now it has changed) in dance at that time in Europe. So that was completely new, appealing and amazing and I loved it. I thought I’ll learn more of that and started looking for an Indian dance class in Frankfurt. Accidentally I came across I guess the only Odissi class in Europe at that time. The teacher was Christina Kray Lino, a German who had worked in Delhi. I attended her Odissi classes not knowing anything about the different Indian styles. Thereafter I attended different workshops –– I did a little bit of Kathak, Bharatanatyam but wanted to learn properly. So I decided to come to India to study it.

First I went to Kuchipudi Academy in Chennai because they invited me and from there I travelled to Kerala and then to Odisha.

How did you get to learn from Sangeeta Dash?

While in Germany I met an Indian dancer who was doing Chhau. I told him that I wanted to go to India to study dance. So he said ‘When you come to Odisha call me up. I know Odissi dancers.’ So after seeing all the styles, I went to Bhubaneswar and called him. By that time he had got married to Sangeeta Dash. He introduced me to her and that is how we met. I studied with her when she was in Bhubaneswar, from 1995 to 2001. When she went to Pondicherry, I went back to Germany.

Tell us about your first Odissi performance

(Laughs) That was for the students performance in Germany after doing one year’s training there. That was a different style also, the Mayadhar Raut style because Christine Kray Lino studied from him. It was his composition. I remember we did “Dasavataar’ in a group. I really don’t remember it. My first significant performance was when my Guru Sangeeta took me to Rourkela with a group and gave me the chance to perform a solo ‘Sthayi’ composed by Guru Debaprasad Das. That was the first time I really felt that I am performing Odissi on stage.

Are you comfortable with abhinaya?

Yes I do abhinaya. Every abhinaya I learn, I know what each word means. There is absolutely no problem with pieces like ‘Surya ashtakam’, a long abhinaya or the slokas of Gita Govinda. But with pure abhinaya the problem is that if you perform in Germany, people are not used to viewing for a long time. Usually you do one piece or may be two pieces. If I have a chance to do two pieces, I can do one abhinaya but otherwise it has to be incorporated in the dance and can’t just be performed on its own.

With Sangeeta in 1999 perhaps I performed a lot of abhinayas of Ashtapadis from Gita Govinda. I know a lot of abhinayas from Kavi Banamali Das. They are very sweet. Odia abhinaya have a different flavour and simplicity. But I don’t get the opportunity to perform them. The thing is that when I dance, I want to feel the dance in my body first, feel the strength before I can perform something like an abhinaya. So I cannot just perform an abhinaya.

As a foreigner what are the challenges you face?

I like the criticism best when I am not considered as a foreigner. That happens when I am in a group because I stand out because of my height and colour. When I am on the stage alone I am not compared with Indian students and my dance would be seen and considered and not my height or complexion. Sometimes you can hear comments from the spectators like ‘being a foreigner how can she dance well’ and so on. On the other hand there are those who appreciate me because being a foreigner I am doing Odissi.

What about acceptance by fellow dancers?

I can only talk about people whom I have met and there is absolutely no problem about being a foreigner. Everybody is very friendly, helpful and happy that I am doing Odissi.

Tell us about the training you do in Germany.

My work entails training students, many of whom have gone to Sangeeta for further studies besides creating awareness about Odissi. Around 10 per cent of my students are Germany and the remaining are from all over Europe. I don’t have a school but take classes in different places. Besides I work and perform with classical musicians from Hamburg, some Arabians, Indians and Pakistanis and choreograph pieces for them.

Is it in Odissi?

I am using the techniques of Odissi and Indian dance, a little bit of Karana techniques and charis set to the music composition of a friend. I learnt the Karanas from Dominique Delorme from Paris who learnt it from Padma Subramanium. I am working on systemising the techniques of Odissi (of course there are the treatises) by illustrating them through pictures. For easy access by breaking them up into small parts of information and translating them. I want to keep them as close to the original script for easy comprehension.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 2:04:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/The-accidental-love-for-Odissi/article14425994.ece

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