Friday, 17 June 2022

Konark Festival

The Konark Festival 2021 was held offline for the second consecutive year after the pandemic that struck the world. Odisha Tourism had left no stone unturned for the success of this one-of-its-kind festival. They had even adopted stringent measures for following the norms and restrictions to prevent the spread of the dreaded Coronavirus.

The smooth flowing of the first two days programme of the five-day-long festival was like a lull before a storm. Then came the third morning, when the rain god simmered with fury. The signs were clear –a cloudy morning with incessant drizzle, enough to dampen the spirits of the organisers as well as the performers. Weather reports on the third day morning of the festival by the India Meteorological Department predicted Cyclone Jawad would reach the coast of Odisha on 3 December 2021 due to a deep depression over South East Bay of Bengal.

To be selected to perform in the Konark dance festival is the chance of a lifetime for most dance companies. Mayur Lalit Dance Company, Dasyam Centre for Mohiniattam, Spanda Dance Company,, Suravi and GKCM Odissi Research Centre could not perform, because Odisha Tourism was left with no other option, but to cancel the festival starting from the third day.

However, December first and second 2021 was able to showcase the scheduled programmes. On 1 December 2021, the weather in the small town of Konark was salubrious. It was just the perfect season to be in that temple city, which boasts of the Konark Sun temple on the shores of Chandrabhaga river, built by Narasimha Deva -1 in the 13th century, to witness the Konark Festival of dance showcasing the beautiful classical dance forms of India. The open-air two-tier stage, which is where the dances were presented had for its background the richly sculptured Surya temple whose beauty is sheer joy. It reminded me of, Keats’ line “Beauty is truth, truth beauty that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”.

The statues practically seemed to come alive from the walls of the chariot of Surya to entertain the audience, before going back to their allotted space on the temple walls.  The first team to take the stage was from Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. Renowned Odissi exponent Madhavi Mudgal and troupe presented Nartan Ganesh, practised to perfection in Odissi style. Madhavi Mudgal’s trained dancers were expert dancers. Sometimes they took on the role of bhaktas, while at other times they imitated Ganesha. Careful observations by Madhavi facilitated the dancers to adapt the swaying of the trunk and flapping of the huge elephant-like ears the remover all obstacles. The group of dancers evoked bhakti. The music composition was by Madhavi Mudgal and Pt. Vinaya Chandra Maudgalya.  Gunakri Pallavi showed the joy and rhythm of movement, which is beauty in itself. This was a composition of the legendary Gopal Chandra Panda and a rhythm composition of late guru Banamali Moharana. There is rhythm in God-gifted human bodies and the graceful movement of dancers created aesthetic bliss. The musical ensemble supported the dancers in creating a perfect ambience. The music echoed in our ears hours after it was actually heard.  The abhinaya piece, Uthilo ede kahinki re, is an old composition of Gopal Krushna Patnayek, which Madhavi used to showcase the naughty activities of child Krishna. It had an old-world beauty. In Trayi the moods of the three seasons Vasant, Grisma and Varsha were enumerated through the musical traditions of Hindustani music. Madhavi Mudgal’s flawless choreographic skill was appreciated.

by Lucknow Gharana Kathak exponent Vaswati Mishra’s troupe offered the audience a different flavour altogether. The troupe’s fare consisted of Panchakshar, Rasamanjari, Nayika and Tarana. While Rasamanjari displayed the intricacies of the Kathak technique in Jhaptala time cycle of 10-beats, composed by Sounak Chattopadhyay, Nayika presented three types of nayikas-Swadheenpatika, Khandita and Vasaka Sajjika to thumri compositions.

Choreographer Vaswati used the composition of Shanti Sharma based on raga Yaman Kalyan, Bairagi, Bhatiar, Malkaus and Bhairavi in Panchakshar.

Tarana in raga Bahar in Teental used abstract phonetic sounds in their renditions. The music composition was by Hindustani maestro Amjad Ali Khan. Every nuance of the Kathak technique and subtle abhinaya through which the stories were told made a mark. The dancers were in top form.

On the  2nd day of the Konark Festival, Abhinaya Dance Academy of Anita Sharma made a  Sattriya presentation. A disciple of guru Jatin Goswami, Anita Sharma has taken giant steps to be the kind of performer that she is today. She made an exposition of this living tradition of dance, which is practised in Sattras to this day. Krishna Vandana naturally was paying obeisance to Krishna; Sutradhari nritya involved movements of the head, hands and limbs; through Nandi Geet she offered her prayers to the devatas, God, monarch and the Brahmins. Bhatima, Chali Nach, Leela Govindam, Rajaghoria Chali and Gajendra Moksh were all traditional pieces rendered. The audience got a summary of all that  Sattriya dance is about. These varied items were suitable for understanding the dance form.  The pieces were all of antique value. However, the dance form has to take a big leap to make itself contemporary and speak the language of people too and not only of the gods. Rajghoriya Chali was a pure dance, showcasing the joy of rhythm and grace. The dancers were clad in immaculate Assamese costumes unique to Sattriya.

Niranjam Routh and a group of Nupur presented Devi, representing the ten Mahavidyas in Odissi style of feminine divinity. She blesses the deserving and also takes no time in getting rid of the unwanted. Rag Desh Pallavi was presented to the music composition of guru Ramhari Das. The whole stage filled with dancers was captivating.  Guru Niranjan Rout’s practical training has paid rich dividends. However, the best piece he presented was Sun, supreme of all the planets.  The massive dance area consisting of a two-tier stage was filled artistically with skilled dancers. Surya has been a recurring theme in all Indian classical dance forms. Here it was richly presented in the Odissi dance form. Guru Niranjan Routh the founder of Nupur, is an eminent creative artist and is totally dedicated to the enrichment of the culture of Odisha.

 Tapati Chowdurie

Thursday, 16 June 2022

Jyotirgamaya - A Transcendence from Darkness to Light

A tribute to Rabindranath Tagore on his 165th birth Anniversary (9th May)

Soon after his return from England, Rabindranath Tagore and his brother Jyotirindranath plunged into musical composition. Rabindranath, with his direct experience and influence of Western music and opera immediately composed his opera Valmiki Pratibha (The genius of Valmiki) that quickly took its place in the repertoire. The composition, where melody and words had equal importance, had its roots to the special genius of Bengali music- the kirtans - and like a master jeweller studded it with the gems of classical Hindustani raga-based music (ragasrayi) embellishing it with their own ideas and  beautiful poetry. In addition, tunes of two English songs were borrowed for the drinking songs of the dacoit band and an Irish melody for the lament of the banadevis (wood nymphs).

Widely performed as a dance -theatre, dance drama, to that effect drama, it remains as one of the few dramas  of Tagore that has immediate and authentic appeal outside  Bengal for its grandeur, vivacity, variety, vigour and wonderful  gamut of styles and emotions missing from his later dramas.

Till date, Valmiki Prathibha remains as one of the most popular, most loved performance piece for dancers and for actors with a panoramic scope of choreographic and theatrical possibilities and spectacular collage of forms.

Valmiki after Transcendance

26 February 1881 was a special day in the life of Rabindranath Tagore. On this day was the first public performance of his opera Valmiki Prathibha in Jorasako (ancestral home of the Tagore’s) with Rabindranath Tagore in the role of Valmiki  and his niece Pratibha, as Saraswati. So good was Pratibha’s performance that Tagore changed his opera’s title from Valmiki to Valmiki Pratibha. And so remains Valmiki Pratibha as the most sought after opera-drama-dance piece.

To commemorate this date the internationally reputed singer –actor, documentary film-maker, director, culture historian and teacher of Tagore’s music and drama, , Debasish Raychaudhuri as Valmiki ,presented a unique solo act  Jyotirgamaya, based on Valmiki Pratibha. Conceived and directed by him and  produced by Jyotirindra Moitra Memorial Trust this master-piece was released by Bhavna Records (specialising in Tagore’s work) as a short film. It traces the path of transcendence of the notorious and greedy dacoit leader Ratnakar to the sage-like epic poet Valmiki said to be the author of Ramayana.

Moved to pity by the grief of one of a pair of cranes (Kraunca birds) after it had been shot by a hunter, Valmiki broke into the divine Sanskrit verse Ma nishada pratishtam twamagama saswati samaha” and thereafter composed the epic.

In Tagore’s version, Valmiki was moved by the piteous cry of a little girl caught by his fellowmen to offer her as a sacrifice to Goddess Kali, their very own deity (mother). He protests their decision, disbands the gang and wanders in the forests in search of a vocation. He suddenly sees the hunters aiming at the two birds and breaks into the verse.

Rohini Raychaudhuri

Goddess Lakshmi appears to him, offers wealth and tries to convince him of its importance but Valmiki by then a transformed person embraces the enlightenment of knowledge. It was Goddess Saraswati who had taken the guise of the girl. Saraswati reveals herself to Ratnakar and as a boon in reward of his awakened sense of humanity gives Valmiki the gift of song which would resound from land to land and echo in the voice of poets and singers.

Debashish naturally followed the bard’s version and echoed it for the first time as a unique mono-act with innovative directorial brilliance and his powerful performance energy, fully unleashed. The echo of the song Daya koro anatarey, pleading for mercy by the girl in Rohini Raychaudhuri’s voice and the cruel smile in Debashish’s face  was a memorable display of intense desperation amalgamated with torment, realisation  and the final surrender to kindness with  shifting changes of expressions.

An intuitively intelligent sensitively interpretive film, it excels in three zones. The theatrical and dramatic executions by the actor at no point allows any shallowness due to the physical absence of the multicast with an unmatched set of eye movements, facial expressions and his dramatic persona.

Cinematographic excellence and camerawork exploring light and shade creating subtle stereotypically different ambience like use of small earthenware oil-lamps, a shining ‘kripan’(sharp large knife) and the dark background of varying intensity with an interesting use of streaks and volumes of diffused light  and the sudden burst of full-screen illumination at the point of transcendence were some of the stunning visual treats.

Furthermore, casting in opera goes more by larynxes than by physical attributes. A highly acclaimed singer and a distinguished actor, Debashish  carried the piece on his shoulders with  a confluence of melody, words, rhythm, poems and  theatre with highly realistic proficiency.

Portraying shifting moods and challenges of different characterisation with confrontation of different performance and styles of singing and use of light and shade, he was successful in advocating a rarely seen combination of co-relation of acting and singing, poetry and music  in a spectacular manner.

The songs of Valmiki were by Debashish. The playback singers were his daughter Rohini Raychaudhuri an acclaimed singer who sang for Balika (the girl) Lakshmi and banadevis  and Hindol Nandi  for the  dacoits and hunter.

Jyotirgamaya has the distinction of personal style of the director Debashish Raychaudhuri who conceived it. The work, first of its kind, is refreshing and every minute becomes a memorable moment for the viewers by the stunning performance of an artist of a very high calibre.

There were a group of young minds behind the production. The soulful music designing was by Surajit Das, DoP Arjun, assisted by Tathagata, edited by Sayantan Mukherjee. English subtitles Ritojit Mondal, production Rohini Raychaudhuri, artwork courtesy Swarup Swapan Chatterjee.


Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Chandalika - to mark 75 years of India’s independence-Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav

Rabindranath Tagore’s dance-drama, Chandalika sourced from a Buddhist legend highlighting the power of spiritualism as preached by Buddha, has been his launching pad for commenting on several issues that are needed for the existence of a healthy and happy society where everyone is seen as equals -- be they, men or women. The issues Rabindranath Tagore touched upon in his dance drama Chandalika written in 1938 are as relevant today as it was when it was written.  Tagore’s protagonist of the drama is Prakriti - the daughter of a Chandal, who belongs to the fringes of the caste system. Though sourced from a Buddhist legend, Ananda the young disciple of the Buddha is not the protagonist. The focal point of this dance-drama has been the existent inequality in our society, among other things. This inequality brings in its wake socio-economic, political and cultural inequality that exists in our country. Besides, the dance drama has also commented on female sexuality. Today the world talks about subaltern history as well as women’s sexuality. The visionary poet has put forward these ideas for a healthy society as early as the early 20th century.

Bharatanatyam performer Sutapa Awon Pradhan chose to perform Chandalika with her repertory group to remind people of the message of Tagore. She has skillfully conveyed his ideas with sensitivity. As a choreographer who understands rhythm and the beauty of dance movements and is able to interpret the language of the lyrics of Tagore with the subtlety of body-language Sutapa Awon is a winner and has worked wonders.

As penned by the poet each and every song in the drama, the dialogues, and the mantras chanted were emotionally charged. All that the choreographer needed to reach her desired goal was a careful understanding of the text and the layers of interpretations that it offers.

Sutapa Awon Pradhan has worked hard in her endeavour to portray the ideas of the dance-drama. She was able to engage the attention of the audience from the start to finish. The story is poignantly told when Prakriti, the protagonist is branded as an untouchable. With her status as a chandal’s daughter, she is the poorest of the poor and naturally an outcast. The pathos of this awareness was brought out in the production. Her Praktiti was a rebel as the poet had intended.

Ananda, the young disciple of Buddha passes by when Prakriti is near the well, chanting the Buddha mantra Jo sannisinno barabodhimule. She is at her most vulnerable moment of torment caused by her societal stigma of being a Chandal’s kanya. The path of Buddha has taught Ananda the equality of all human beings. And that makes him ask her for water to quench his thirst.  Her answer is that she is the daughter of a chandal, which makes the water of her well unclean and doesn’t cut any ice with him. His answer, “As I am so are you”, strikes a chord in her heart. She has fallen in love. Why not? After all, she has human feelings like everybody else. For the first time, she realises her dignity and the place she deserves in society.

There was clarity in the renditions of these in dance. In Chandalika, Tagore has explored the neglected. His Chandalika is a powerful critique of all that ails our society. Prakriti’s boldly protests against the injustice, that the caste system has doled out to a large section of the people of which she is a symbol.

Chandalika portrays Rabindranath Tagore’s ideas of female desire in an untouchable girl. Dance to Tagore was a vehicle through which contemporary ideas and predicaments could be conveyed to the audience. It should ideally bring about a change in people’s minds; our hearts weep for Prakriti.

Just as Tagore had intended, Sutapa has taken inspiration from both the classical dances and the non-classical dances. Through dance, he has expressed the female identity that defies accepted norms, brought out excellently in Sutapa’s rendition. As in his other dance dramas here too religion, poetry, music and dance merge.

In the dance drama Chandalika, Prakriti is constrained by her socio-political, economic and cultural conditions. The drama articulates Prakriti’s aspirations through the rhythmic movement of her body. Her mother is portrayed as one who accepts the position assigned to her by society-it takes all sorts to make up this world. At her daughter’s behest her magical powers bring Ananda, who is soaked in the teachings of Buddhism to Prakriti, to fulfil her lust, but seeing his lacklustre image in the mirror shown to her by her mother, she undergoes a transformation. Prakriti had seen him with the radiance of his enlightenment soaked in the teachings of Buddha and then to see him as an ordinary mortal for her benefit was a fall she couldn’t imagine.  She had loved a man who was sparkling bright, but what she saw in the mirror was the image of a man devoid of light radiance.  Love elevates her. The audience is in a dilemma. What was the primary message of the dance-drama? Was it all about Buddha’s teachings or was it about the dignity of a woman that Tagore has carefully penned?

Sutapa Awon Pradhan the choreographer has made use of the classical dance form of Bharatanatyam, moulding it sufficiently to suit the beautiful lyrics and dialogues penned by Tagore. She has used vigorous folk dances while casting a magic spell. The amalgamation of dance styles has merged seamlessly in the drama.  The music arrangement was done by Kalyan Sen Barat. Vocalist  Jayati Chakraborty who sang the songs of Prakriti had the effect of conveying anger, pathos, sorrow and serenity. Moumita Banerjee vocalised the songs of the mother, which was unique. Madhurima Das in the role of Prakriti melted our hearts. Sutapa Awon Pradhan in the role of the mother showed how subjugation is taken for granted.

Students of Nrityalok danced the group dances which gave fullness to the drama. Tarun Pradhan the Director of Sarabhuj did the stage designs. Gopal Ghosh’s light designs helped in creating the scene where magic was used to bring Ananda to Prakriti. Make-up man Bablu Mondal’s acumen brought out the uniqueness of the different characters.

I cannot at this point help but recall Sutapa Awon Pradhan’s choreography of Rabindranath Tagore’s Natir Puja in Satyajit Ray Auditorium at ICCR, Kolkata in 2011 to commemorate the 150th Birth Anniversary of the poet, which the poet himself had staged in 1926 at Jorasanko and filmed in New Theatres in the year  1932. (Unfortunately, all copies of the film had burnt). Sutapa had choreographed a beautiful dance drama, true to Tagore’s spirit, which is etched in my memory.

Tapati Chowdurie

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Antardrishti — 96th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra

Srjan Odissi Nrityabasa in collaboration with Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Odissi Research Centre celebrated the 96th Birth Anniversary of the doyen of Odissi dance, guru Kelucharan Mohapatra with an evening of music and dance at the Utkal Ranga Mancha, Bhubaneswar. The programme was inaugurated by eminent Odissi dancer and President of Odisha Sangita Natak Akademi, guru Aruna Mohanty, Sangita Gosain, Former Chief Executive, GKCM Odissi Research Centre, guru Dhaneswar Swain, eminent Mardal player and guru Ratikant Mohapatra, Director, Srjan, the legendary guru’s own institution.

The evening commenced with one of Ratikant’s most popular compositions, Bho Shambho –a prayer to Lord Siva penned by  Swami Dayanand Saraswati, which explores the multifarious facets of the Lord through improvised expansive movements all within the traditional Odissi format. With an unerring grip on rhythm and undiluted grammar of the choreography, three well-trained dancers negotiated the relatively fast-paced number in ragam Revati portraying the striking diversity of Siva’s attributes with nuanced detail with appealing movements in the reverberating spiritual vein as trained by their guru, Ratikant.

The next number Meepa premiered and dedicated to guru Kelucharan Mohapatra as a mark of respect on his 96th birth anniversary needs a special mention. Well-crafted with a unique blend of music composed by Agnimitra Behera, especially the delicate strokes of the piano at the beginning and soul-stirring flute-violin combination. The rhythm and the strength of movements of the choreography of Ratikant, with the sharpness and precision of the dancers combined with the fantastic light design of Devi Prasad Mishra elevated the performance.

Lovely sways and swings, floor moves with spellbinding skills and styles in the piece had a dramatic appeal with visual imagery, a hallmark of Ratikant’s choreography primarily due to its graceful contours, seamless dips in and out in harmony, in the fascinating execution with variable energy, neatness and a dialogue with the expansive stage space with the finesse of a memorable production. Srinibas Satpathy on the flute, Agnimitra Behera and Suramani Ramesh Chandra Das on the violin with Ravi Shankar Pradhan on the sitar enriched the music as accompanists.

The music section in the second half saw the magic of jugalbandi in the sarod –flute presentation by two well-known musicians of Odisha. Jabahar Mishra on the flute with sarod and tabla player Sandeep Kumar Raut on the sarod presented raga Gorarakha Kalyan set to Mata tala and drut Teental in a soulful recital of raga, rhythm and melody accompanied on the tabla by Subhransu Sekhar Sahoo. The distinctive and intense phrases of the raga Misra Pilu in tala Dipchandi and Kaharva were offered in definite terms exploring the strong and subtle nuances and were received well by the audience. Their second presentation of the popular bhajan Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram was an experience to cherish. The two-hour evening was compeered by Sribas Ghatuary with his usual efficiency.

 Nita Vidyarthi

Photos courtesy: Srjan.

Monday, 13 June 2022

17th Sangam Festival 2021, by Art Vision, Bhubaneswar

Distinguished Odissi dancer Ileana Citeristi’s institution Art Vision planned their 17th Sangam Festival with the hope that this year the doors of Rabindra Mandap auditorium will open in time for their annual festival of the confluence of Odissi with another classical dance style. The anxiety laced with optimism was whisked off and lady luck smiled four days before their scheduled date of performance, 24 November 2021. So Rabindra  Mandap’s opening event was a bouquet of Odissi by Art Vision and Kuchipudi by Saila Sudha, Chennai, spearheaded by dancer Sailaja, presented with the usual grandeur in the one-day annual festival. The festival had an added advantage of having renowned Odissi singer Sangita Gossain to compere the programme and introduce the performances.

Art Vision opened with a short piece Sabdaswara Pata,  based on the shabda nritya woven around the four bhangi’s  Alasa, Manini, Taranga and Biraja, featuring the lasya shaili (elements) in Sabdaswara Pata composed by acclaimed guru Gajendra Panda and performed gracefully with well-rehearsed ease by three dancers. Alasa appealed most. The Ektali elaboration in raga Ananda Kedar had lovely formations and poised stances choreographed by Ileana and sung by Sangeeta Panda to the music of Ramesh Chandra Das and Surendra Maharana.

The production Suta, the Thread, was an ode to the creativity of the Odia weavers, by Art Vision, conceived by Ileana Citeristi and scripted by Devdas Chhotray with her dance composition set to music composed electronically by Annada Prassana Patnaik.

What inspired her to choose this as a performance text? She mentions, “I was inspired by watching the rhythmic movements of the tana-buna (warp-weft) of the weavers and the analogy of the thread with the fabric as well as with the tale, the story of life. I imagined the lives of these village girls linked to the making and interlocking of threads of different colors, projecting into the fabric all their dreams, fears, imagination and aspirations. They weave not only sarees but also the story of their own life and at the end, their life is symbolised by the fabrics they have woven. It is an ode to the creativity of the Odia weavers, their resilience and perseverance, their skill and simplicity of life.”

The performance begins with a prelude (recited)

Like the lines of the palm, are the threads

Some straight, some curved.

Some slow and some run in haste

Telling the stories of our lives.


Threads tell the tales

Woven in the softness of dreams

On the anchal, play the fishes and deer horns

The timeless thread moves on

This is followed by a soul-stirring song Mita re mor mita re, (Friend, Oh my friend your and my lives are entwined to no end) that runs throughout the production as the bonding line between the five soul-stirring songs.

The five dancers depicting reels of the thread of five colours were successful in advocating a co-relation of the narrative, singing and choreography in a spectacular manner, complete with sensations and gestures, rhythms and tones. The intelligent juxtaposition of movements of handlooms with dancing, complete with details like the movement of the shuttle, and the sound of the wooden looms, brilliantly emphasised the drama of the situation. Another memorable moment was the eyes behind the window at the backdrop when these women visit the city and the final drop of a wonderfully embroidered sari at the end to wrap the coffin to create a tragic climax!

While preserving recognisable character to classical dance form this acclaimed dancer uses her research, perception and experience to get inspired to bring forth the dream, trials and tribulations of women weavers through her production where poetry inspires music, music inspires dance and dance celebrates the journey and lives of these weavers.

Annada Prassana Patnaik’s (Butto) brilliant, imaginative music was a powerful musical aid. He contributes single-handed to steer the production ahead with music, from folk to symphony, from bamboo flutes to metallic sound to suit every ambience, of course with his mellifluous vocals and his recitation. At certain moments, the music overpowers the dancers. The dancers do justice to Ileana’s choreography of melding folk moves with classical and her signature intertwining of hands and lovely diagonals.

The production reminds one of the age-old  Nakshikatha embroidery tradition of the women of Bengal who embroidered their aspirations and story generally on old saris.

Acclaimed Kuchipudi dancer Sailaja and the dancers of her institution Saila Sudha offered three riveting performances beginning with Suryashtakam in raga Surya and tala Adi, composed by Sailaja. The ode to Sun God was beautifully ushered in with Twam Suryam pranamayaham by the consummate Sailaja whose body inflexions and strong stylised movements with traditional grace displayed her prowess on the dance form. She was accompanied by her three dancers Arati Vasudevan, Sreshta S. Kumar and Daphnie. Swati Tirunal kriti, Sankara Srigiri in raga Hamsanandi, tala Adi, composed by Sailaja portrayed the magnificence of the cosmic dance of Lord Siva through fast-paced nritta and abhinaya and was the most appealing of the three items, for its interesting blend of jatis and sancharis and the sculpturesque poses. The performance on the rim of a brass plate always earns audience applause and the exactitude and dexterity of the dancers together with Sailaja’s execution on it was unmatched in competence at the tail end of this piece.

They closed the festival with Apsara, composed by Sailaja’s guru, Vempati Chinna Satyam, in ragamalika set to Adi tala, depicting the beauty of the four dancers Rambha, Urvashi, Menaka and Tilottama, dancing in the court of Lord Indra. Saila Sudha’s dancers have displayed uniform training and gave good account of themselves.