Adapting to change

Rajashree has performed extensively at home and abroad at major festivals.   | Photo Credit: 11dmcdance1

Interest in speaking to Rajashree Chintak Behera, Regional Director, Rabindranth Tagore Centre, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Kolkata, developed after watching the majesty of her Odissi performance at her recent Kolkata recital.

Rajashree has performed extensively at home and abroad at major festivals. An able administrator, the dignified dancer talks of her career, policies and background. Excerpts.....

Do you find Odissi has suddenly become popular?

I don’t think so. It had been there for quite some time but if you compare its origin to Bharatanatyam and Kathak it did not come that early to limelight. Since 1965 it has been there and it is growing. Now many great Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancers are shifting to Odissi, like Sonal Mansingh who has taken it up as the main form and performs Bharatanatyam only sometimes.

Do you find it difficult to select quality artistes for cultural promotion?

No, it is not difficult for us. When empanelment happens the ICCR asks for a recording with a special kind of light and sound with musicians so that it can be put through the panel. It should not be a programme recording. The panel has experts from different fields and when they are selecting it is not anyone and everyone who gets empanelled. So for those who get empanelled, the quality is assured. Now what we are doing is that for those artists who are not empanelled as yet and we are seeing that their productions are good, especially group productions which are coming up now in any field, classical and contemporary, we make them perform under the Horizon Series If we think it is worth getting them empanelled and that people all over the world should see them, then we send them. Unless you get empanelled you cannot go abroad under the ICCR. Quality is not just the quality of the dancers but quality of the productions and then how it connects to the theme, say if you are looking for something on Vivekananda or Tagore, depending on where the celebration is.

What about solos?

There is a demand for solo but as we all know, it has definitely come down. All dance forms originated as solos, not as group performances, productions or telling a story. It was only Kathakali and Kuchipudi which started as group dance forms. But then Odissi, Bharatanatyam all those styles have first been solos. Now in group productions people get connected more easily, understand the story better because there are different characters. One person does not have to play many characters, many people can play the characters and put the story together. So naturally it looks good, specially on a big stage. When I performed solo at Konark the stage was so big that a large section of the audience was not able to see properly. Even Khajuraho is becoming a group festival. Every solo guru, solo dancers and teachers are putting up their group productions. Then another purpose is to show your talent in choreography. Of course you can show your talent in choreography through your solo items also, as all our gurus like Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Guru Debaprasad Das have done! They hardly choreographed any group items. All pallavis, all abhinayas all Shivastakams, Ardhanarishwaram, whatever you say, they choreographed it into a solo item. They did not think of a group item. Now taking the same music, five dancers are taken and choreographed into a group item as it is the demand of the age. And to progress you have to get adapted with time, keeping the tradition, keeping the technique but just making a small adaption so that you can connect with the people. If I do a solo item which people don’t understand, don’t like it, get bored after ten minutes, get up and go, then what is the point of doing it?

For your comeback to dancing did you have to put in extra effort?

To comeback after a break in any physical activity like dance or sports causes difficulty as your body becomes stiff. I could not dance for one-and-a-half years for personal reasons and also for this job that I have taken up. I could not do much. That’s why I took two months time from them (ITC Sangeet Research Academy) and I practised, practised and practised and then came back. Maybe I could reach only 80 per cent in my performance. That’s alright. Ups and downs are there, you can’t be the same all the time.

Why do you think the Deba Prasad Das style is not so common?

Because he spent a lot of time abroad. He travelled to foreign countries and stayed there to popularise the style. That way he has done a favour to the style but could not do a favour to himself. Personalities are different. He could not do that kind of public relations or that kind of advertisement so that people would come to him. He said okay, “ Kisko sikhna hai aao nahi to jao”. He was only doing it for himself. “Come, I will do it for you”! He would never go to anybody’s place, never call anyone to come to his place, never ask for sponsorship. Nothing of that sort. I am sure at that time gurus were not doing all this.

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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 2:15:43 PM |

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