Friday, June 29, 2007

(D) Arousing the Spirit Within: Revelations in Odissi - Apr 27, 2007

Pix Source: The Star

ON a stage bathed in red, garlands of severed heads rested heavily on the bloody chest of the goddess that appeared in the revered forms of Kali, Tara, Sodashi, Bhuvaneswari, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagala, Maatangi and Kamala. Her devotees trembled in fear and were shocked at the paradoxical revelations of the divine.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” – this proverb, adapted from a line in the play The Mourning Bride, by William Congreve (an English author of the late 17th and early 18th centuries) certainly seemed accurate to describe the scene. Who would have thought that the usually sensual Odissi, one of the oldest Indian classical dance forms, could conjure up such emotions?

The choreographer for Arousing the Spirit Within – Revelations of Odissi was Guru Durga Charan Ranbir from India, a direct disciple of the late Guru Deba Prasad Das who was one of the four principal gurus who participated in the reconstruction of Odissi dance in the 1950s. He was the first to introduce this dance form to the world through the performance of his disciple Priyambada Mohanty in 1954.

Today, Durga Charan is regarded by critics and dancers alike as the successor of Deba Prasad’s dance legacy, which is distinguished by earthy poses, fiery energy and subtle but intricate gestures and emotions. Like his master, he believes that the performance should be all about keeping true to the dance vocabulary.

“I use the Odissi language to make my own choreography, which helps to further the Odissi tradition in its own way. And the key to keeping Odissi alive is to take it around the world to different audiences and students,” he said.

The recent show was presented by the Kalpana Dance Theatre, founded by Malaysia-based Bharatnatyam danseuse Shangita Namasivayam. The performance featured well-regarded danseuse Leena Mohanty and up-and-coming Odissi star Debashish Pattanayak from India, and Malaysians Daisygarani Vidhyakumari, Praveen Nair, Vidhya Pushpanathan and Anusha Nair

Deba Prasad’s dance legacy was displayed most convincingly in Sthai, which boasted an amazingly complex and tedious choreography. The dance piece revealed sculptured poses which were conveyed in a duet performed by Parveen Nair and guest artist, Debasish Pattnaik. The undulating torso and shoulder in seamless transition and motion – a natural effect of tribhangi (the body bent in three places forming an ‘S’ shape) – were tuned to the constancy of the mnemonic syllabic line which was sung hypnotically. Yet, their darting eyes, fluid wrists, twirling hands, and accented footwork reacted to the shrill melody from the flute lead.

The six-part dance also included Mangalacaran, Pallavi, Dhira Samire, and Moksha. Mangalacaran was an invocatory piece dedicated to Lord Shiva and the dancers demonstrated their devotion through prayerful gestures and by giving offerings. Pallavi was performed to the beautiful raag, Kedar Kamodi, an ancient classical Indian melody and the piece exuded a rather brisk Odissi style.

The stop-move-stop-move choreography challenged the fluidity normally associated with this dance form and the music was, on occasion, overbearing and distracting. The dancers could also have been more accurate and sharper in their movements to bring out the full essence of this brisk-style choreography.

Dhira Samire was an “abhinaya’’ or expression piece. There was intricate but subtle choreography for the facial muscles, eyes and fingers, making the dancers independent storytellers of the famous Geeta Govinda (Song of the Cowherd), a work composed in the 12th century by the great poet-composer Jeyadeva of Puri, Orissa.

In this story, Radha’s confidante urges her to meet Krishna who is waiting for her by the Yamuna River. The boost of confidence gave Radha the opportunity to develop a relationship with Krishna. In this scene, Leena Mohanty, Daisygarani Vijayakumaran and Parveen Nair each played their part well.

Moksha, the concluding piece, did not depict a sense of independence or the joy of liberation. It heavily echoed the earlier Dasa Mahavidhya section and could not find release from its brooding sentiment.

One setback of tis production was the lighting. Though dance was the focus, a little attention to design and texture in lighting would have greatly enhanced the overall impact of the performance.

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