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Male Dancers Share The Spotlight At A Chiseled Odissi Performance

December 2005
Male Dancers Share The Spotlight At A Chiseled Odissi Performance

A mixed group of male and female Odissi dancers offered a rare treat during Sensation Odissi 2005 at the White Hall in Emory University on Nov. 4. The event, organized by Georgia Oriya Society under the aegis of Emory University's Office of International Affairs, was well-attended. At times, the excess numbers caused disruption in the recitals with people walking up and down the aisles with folding chairs to accommodate the late arrivals. A constant murmur in the audience and occasional problems in the handling of the lights hindered what was otherwise a chiseled performance set to Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's choreography. Despite all of the above technical difficulties, the presentation was flawless and rendered with great passion and grace by the performers.

The dancers belonged to the Orissa Dance Academy, which has institutes in India, Holland, Canada and the U.S. (southern California), were indeed sensational, especially the unusually high number of male dancers who comprised half of the dance troupe. The music was a live performance by a group of accomplished musicians that included Bijaya Kumar Barik on the mardal, Ramesh Chandra Das, a composer who played the violin, Rabi Shankar Pradhan, a noted sitar player, and Sukanta Kundu, a leading Odissi vocalist. The Odissi classical dance form has evolved much as have other Indian classical dance forms. Traditionally Maharis, or girl-dancers, attached to well-known shrines in Orissa used to perform morning and evening rituals in front of the deities. The tradition has been maintained by generations of these devoted temple dancers. There are, however, a few distinguishing aspects of Odissi performers as compared to other Indian classical dance forms that grew out of the tradition of a temple devotee-dancer. The deflection of the hip, stances like Tibhanga (triple bend), arch-wise designs of hand movement, and rounded, lyrical body movements are some of the dance aspects that differentiate Odissi from other forms. Sculpture poses known as "Bhangis," have a prominence in this form.

At the Emory show, the dancers performed Mangala Charan, a traditional opening act that invokes the blessings of Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe), the presiding deity at any Odissi performance. This rendition also pays respects to Mother Earth and is in praise of Goddess Durga (Devi Stuti), the embodiment of the female energy, the slayer of the demon Mahinsa, and the one who represents the elements: water, air, fire, sky and earth. The next on the dancers' repertoire was Pallavi (elaboration), an item that starts of with slow, lyrical movements based on a raga and evolves to a fast-paced footwork and complex body movement. Pallavi is set to Raga Hamsadhwani.

Aahey Nila Shaila, an Oriya song written by the Muslim poet and ardent devotee of Lord Jagannath, Salabeg was next. Shrushti O Pralaya, which literally means the cycle of creation and destruction, was an item inspired by Mother Nature's wrath and devastation of earth such as the super-cyclone that hit Orissa in 1999, the Tsunami that wiped out significant areas of the Southeast Asia in December 2004, and the more recent Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. This stirringly emotional item was unique in presentation and charged with modern Abhinaya (a representation which is able to suggest or present the psychological status of characters in a dramatic representation or in dance) by the dancers. It felt extremely life-like in action. Krishnaya Tubhyam Namah (Dasavatara), the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu, were enacted in dance with their respective episodes - Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Baraha (wild boar), Narasimha (half lion half man), Bamana (dwarf), Parashuram (a temperamental sage), and Rama, Balrama, Buddha and Kalki, all upholders of truth and justice on earth.

The finale was the longest item of the dance recital. Lasya Leela is a classical dance ballet depicting the story of the soft moonlight personified as a fairy that descends on the sculptures of the Surya Mandir (the Sun Temple of Konark) and urges them to get rid of their shyness. It is said a strange excitement fills the hearts of the statues as they come alive while Konark smiles silently in the recaptured glory of the movement, before the sun rises and the statues return to their stony silence.

The stage overflowed with vivid color costumes. The symbolic white head adornment on the female dancers, heavy-jeweled bands on the waist, and grace and charm of both men and women performers of the Odissi had a cumulative effect on the spectator. The synchronization of hand and body movements of performers in groups ? and individual dancers ? was evidence of years of training. The dancers of this well-choreographed recital were Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, Aruna Mohanty, Manoranjan Pradhan, Ramesh Chandra Jena, Madhusmita Mohanty, Yudhisthir Nayak, Leema Bhol, Pabitra Kumar Pradhan and Shibani Patnaik. A nice way to round off the year in Atlanta that saw excellent recitals of various Indian classical dance forms.

- Viren Mayani

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