Anugamana, (the ongoing journey) presented by the Indian Cultural Centre, Colombo at the Russian Cultural Centre recently, was an offering of Odissi dance showcasing the talent of Sri Lankan-born Nritta Ganeshi Manoharan and two senior exponents of the Odissi dance form, Leena Mohanty and Daisygarani Vijayakumaran. This debut performance in Sri Lanka, comprised five items [...]


Odissi: An odyssey in search of the sublime

Anugamana held on July 31 at the Russian Cultural Centre, Colombo

Sri Lankan-born Nritta Ganeshi Manoharan: Debut performance here

Anugamana, (the ongoing journey) presented by the Indian Cultural Centre, Colombo at the Russian Cultural Centre recently, was an offering of Odissi dance showcasing the talent of Sri Lankan-born Nritta Ganeshi Manoharan and two senior exponents of the Odissi dance form, Leena Mohanty and Daisygarani Vijayakumaran.

This debut performance in Sri Lanka, comprised five items choreographed by Leena Mohanty, with music composed by Sri Dheeraj Kumar Mohapatra, and was especially momentous for Nritta as it was her first in her motherland. Nritta is the daughter of a leading proponent and teacher of the Bharata Natyam dance form, Shangitha Namasivayam.

The event was graced by the Leader of the Opposition R. Sambandan, and the Acting Head of the Indian High Commission, Arindam Bagchi, and the audience included members of the public, well-wishers, friends, and well known names in Sri Lankan dance Khema and Upekha, Haridevi Jayasundara, Vasuki Jagatheeswaran and Nirmala Benedict.

The evening opened with Mangalacharan, a salutation to Goddess Saraswati, the bestower of all boons who can take any form. Mangalacharan was performed by Nritta and Daisy. Nritta has that rare quality in a dancer that transcends the exposition of technique, drawing her audience into the sheer pleasure of her performance. Her fluidity of movement and grace were in deep contrast to Daisy’s technically perfect and precise expression. The second item, Pallavi, was performed by Leena and Nritta. This elaboration on a melodic-rhythmic theme built gradually into complex patterns and variations, capturing the mood of the monsoon with Leena Mohanty’s choreography beautifully expressing the Raag Madhyamadi and Taal Ekatali on which Pallavi is based. Leena and Nritta were in delightful harmony as they performed the duet. Leena’s choreography brought to life the Gita Govinda, a work composed by the 12th-century Indian poet, Jayadeva, which describes the relationship between Krishna and the gopis (female cow herders) of Vrindavana, and in particular one gopi named Radha. The item was performed by all three dancers to the music of Guru Rama Hari Das and was a compelling demonstration of the strengths of each performer.

“A star is born,” said Swami Shantanand Saraswati when he saw Nritta perform at the age of five; and expectations were high when she stepped out onstage alone. Nritta’s solo performance of Chamunda Stutee was a complete revelation of the breadth and depth of the talent of this young dancer. Gone was the graceful, genial, beauty and in its place, despite no costume change and lack of props, was a compelling and credible – Chamunda. Chamunda, one of the chief yoginis and the slayer of the demons Chanda and Munda, is closely associated with Maa Kali – the fearsome aspect of Devi. In Nritta’s dance one could envision the garland of severed heads or skulls, the drum, trident, sword held in her hands, the snake, skull-mace, thunderbolt, the severed head and drinking vessel or skull-cup filled with blood. The dancer’s strong, sharp movements made believable that she stood on the corpse of a thwarted demon or man. Her facial expressions complemented her movements and this was the most enthralling performance of the evening. It dazzled.

The evening ended with Jaaga Maheshwara danced by Leena and Daisy, evoking Lord Shiva as Nataraja who is worshipped as the king among dancers: He is described as the greatest yogi who wears the sky as his garments, balancing on his solitary foot, totally poised. A well-executed finale to a grand evening of Odissi dance.

Anugamana was indeed a fitting title – as this is but one performance in these dancers’ ongoing journey in their search of the sublime and perfection in the execution of Odissi Dance. The evening’s Odissi was in the style of Guru Deba Prasad Das, which is known for its pristine qualities and immaculate compositions, and his fascination for exploring and deriving inspiration from tribal dance movements culminating in a hallmark vigour and verve in execution.Leena Mohanty is a direct disciple of Guru Deba Prasad Das and Guru Durga Charan Ranbir, and is the torch bearer of this style.

Nritta’s name translates to “pure dance”, and she has chosen to express her natural gift for dance through Odissi since her early childhood, blazing her own trail around the world as one of the youngest and most promising stars of the dance form. She has delivered outstanding performances to rave international reviews which have prompted invita­tions from India and Orissa, home of Odissi, where her pure ex­pression of the dance earned her accolades from the dance fraterni­ty. Nritta was selected by Singapore as one of six “Wonder kids of Asia” for her academic performance and her excellence in Odissi. She has also been named as one of the top ten young Odissi talents in India. Nritta is currently pursuing a degree in Engineering at the University of Newcastle, Australia whilst continuing to seek perfection in dance un­der the tutelage of great teachers such as Guru Durga Charan Ranbir and Leena Mohanty. She is currently also in her final year of a Masters programme in Odissi with the Pracheen Kalakendra in India.

Leena Mohanty is one of the leading exponents of Odissi dance. She was the recipient of the first Ustad Bismillah Khan Youth Award in 2006 from Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi and has been awarded the prestigious Mahari award. She is the artistic director of Bansi Bilas, an institution devoted to training young and upcoming dancers of Guru Deba Prasad Das’ School of Odissi, and of the Trinayan Dance Theater, New York City, USA. She also heads the Odissi Department of the Kalpana Dance Theatre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.Leena is a celebrated dancer with a strong and impeccable command of technique marked with clarity, graceful intricacies, eloquent expressions, and precision evoking the Rasa with its full lustre and essence.

Daisygarani Vijayakumaran has been involved in Bharata Natyam and Odissi dances for the past 30 years. A senior dancer with wide performing experience, she has trained for many years with the artistic director of the Kalpana Dance Theater, Shangita Namasivayam. Daisy combines perfect technique with beautiful lines and is one of those rare dancers blessed with angasuddha or perfect form. Ever the student, she is intensely desirous of exploration within the deeply inspiring realm of classical dance.

A dance-drama genre of performance art
Odissi, also referred to as Orissi in older literature, is a major ancient Indian classical dance that originated in the Hindu temples of Odisha – an eastern coastal state of India. Odissi, was performed predominantly by women, and expressed religious stories and spiritual ideas, particularly of Vaishnavism, but performances have also expressed ideas of other traditions such as those related to Hindu gods Shiva and Surya, as well as Hindu goddesses.Odissi is traditionally a dance-drama genre of performance art, where the artist(s) and musicians play out a mythical story, a spiritual message or devotional poem from the Hindu texts, using symbolic costumes, body movement, abhinaya (expressions) and mudras (gestures and sign language) set out in ancient Sanskrit literature. An Odissi performance repertoire includes invocation, nritta (pure dance), nritya (expressive dance), natya (dance drama), and moksha (dance climax connoting freedom of the soul and spiritual release).

The dancers are colourfully dressed. The sarees worn by Odissi dancers are brightly coloured, and usually of local silk (Pattasari) made up with pleats, to allow maximum flexibility. The jewellery includes silver pieces, and the hair is tied up, and typically drawn into an elaborate bun resembling a Hindu temple spire, and decorated with Seenthi, and a moon shaped crest of white flowers. The dancer’s forehead is marked with Tikka, and the eyes are ringed with Kajal, while the ankles are decorated with a leather piece on top of which are bells (ghungroo). The dancer’s palms and soles may be painted with red coloured dye called the Alta.



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