‘At Nrityagram, dance is a way of life.’ The school – dedicated to the beautiful art of Odissi – is said to recall the ancient ashrams where gurus imparted not only technique but also a philosophy of being. Dancers go beyond their immediate practice to explore yoga and the martial arts, and to study Sanskrit [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Rewarding odyssey with Odissi


‘At Nrityagram, dance is a way of life.’ The school – dedicated to the beautiful art of Odissi – is said to recall the ancient ashrams where gurus imparted not only technique but also a philosophy of being. Dancers go beyond their immediate practice to explore yoga and the martial arts, and to study Sanskrit and classical literature. The result are rigorous, exquisite performances that draw on a distinctive dance vocabulary.

Now, the critically acclaimed dance company returns to Colombo at the behest of the ChitrasenaVajira Dance Foundation. Audiences will remember the Indian ‘Odissi dance sensation’ from their tour of Samhara for which they collaborated with their hosts at Chitrasena. While here, Nrityagram are to perform two shows – ‘Sriya’ which represents a decade of dance making and their newest production, ‘Songs of Love and

Surupa Sen: Nrityagram’s first graduate and now its artistic director. Pic by Rupert Lorhaldar

Longing.’ The latter, choreographed by Surupa Sen, will feature her and Bijayni Satpathy performing solos and duets drawing from the ‘Gita Govinda.’ Composed by the 12th-century poet, Jayadeva, the ‘Song of Govinda’ tells the story of Krishna’s deep love for Radha, one of the gopis or cow herders of Vrindavana.

All proceeds from the Nrityagram performance will go towards the ChitrasenaVajira Dance Foundation’s Endowment Fund Campaign which will help establish a Centre for Dance. The ambitious project envisions a world class facility consisting of dance studios and halls, auditorium, gallery, library and archives, as well as residential facilities which will allow dancers to immerse themselves in their art. The campaign also hopes to generate funds to provide a living for teachers, provide scholarships for deserving students and fund performances. Eventually, the Foundation hopes to see established a ‘self-sustaining ecosystem for dance’ which extends beyond the Chitrasena family and a single Colombo-based Kalayathanaya.

Helping breathe life into that vision is Surupa Sen, Nrityagram’s first graduate and now its artistic director, choreographer and dancer. Here are excerpts from her email interview with the Sunday Times.

- After all these years, what about the dance form keeps you rooted in Odissi?

Odissi is the form that entranced me from the first moment I saw it. Its exquisite physical form that combines both the yin and yang is unique to it and perhaps like no other in the world. It offers inherent and limitless possibilities of expression and improvisation that continuously challenge both the mind and body. Temple sculpture, architecture, musical traditions, poetry, spiritual philosophy and religion are all intertwined within an enduring mythology and offered in a seamless blend during performance. Themore we practise it the more we realize what a treasure trove of potential still remains untouched. It makes you want to do more.

- What is it like to dance with Bijayini? What do you most enjoy about sharing a stage with her?

Bijayini and I have danced together for 21 years now. She has been a muse in my choreographic interpretations throughout and perhaps the reason for how some of the works have been shaped. The very first dance we ever did together when we met became a super ‘hit’! It was apparent to us as well as all who saw us dance together that we had a special chemistry on stage. It is still the same after so many years. Inexplicably so. We don’t care to analyse it. It is a gift and we just enjoy it.

- Would you explain how you prepare for an Abhinaya performance?

Abhinaya is a special and specific element of Indian traditional dance forms. It involves dramatic story telling and is that aspect of the art form that requires structured training in mimetic ability and an involved understanding of ‘sahitya’ or literature. It also provides the potential for emotional exploration and release for the dancer which can be uplifting enough to become the reason for why some dancers continue to dance for a long time. It elevates you to seek beyond the physical form.

It can be performed with or without costume and make up. That is really an artistic choice.

- Why do you think the story of Radha and Krishna continues to inspire? As a dancer, what do you seek to communicate when you work from the Gita Govinda?

Radha and Krishna represent abstract concepts of love and desire in Hindu mythology that combines divinity and humanity. Theirs is a love without barrier and a longing for sublimation in the one positive force that binds us all. They symbolise that aspiration of the human spirit which seeks to express and experience its inherent sensuality in all its entirety. A love that endures beyond time.

The Gita Govind has been linked to Odissi from the start because the singing of its verses was part of the daily ritual worship in the temples of Orissa by the ‘devadasis’. If is intricately related to the worship of Jaggannatha, the presiding deity of Odissi dance. In addition to being an astounding piece of Sanskrit literature, the lyricism of the poetry and its inherent musicality lends itself very easily to the Odissi form. We seek to convey ‘love and longing’ through performing this work!

- Are you looking forward to being back in Colombo? How has your collaboration with the Chitrasena company enriched your practice?
We are very excited to be back in Colombo. Our extended family, the Chitrasenas live there!! Our collaboration with them has truly enriched us giving us a ‘love without barriers’ and a world without boundaries. Both through our dance and personal exchange we have learnt to appreciate and enjoy each other’s unique cultures and traditions. What can be a greater blessing in a friendship?

Performances will be on November 7 and 8 at the Lionel Wendt Theatre.Tickets are priced at Rs. 5,000, Rs. 4,000, Rs. 3,000, Rs. 2,000, Rs.1, 000 and Rs.500 (balcony) and can be purchased at www.ticketslk.com, Sarasavi Bookshop – Nugegoda & Maharagama, Tickets Tickets Office – Colombo 3, Sadeepa Bookshop – Borella, Yamaha Music Centre – Colombo 7, Abans main showroom – Colombo 3, Vanapetha Bookshop – Dehiwala, Chitrasena School of Dance, 444 on Dialog and 365 on Etisalat. -S.D.

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