Editor’s Note

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Happy July Everyone! We are happy to bring to you our summer issue of Global Rasika, the online quarterly launched in April of this year to foster critical thinking and discourse in the Odissi field.

Our sophomore issue, ‘Redefining Odissi in a Global Context,’ explores this dance form in the international sphere. As Odissi is now forging roots in other parts of the world, it is important to re-examine, and to an extent, re-negotiate the cultural values that have traditionally dominated how the art is taught, learned, choreographed, and presented. The global ecosystem that Odissi now inhabits will bring to the table a diversity of perspectives, both artistically and culturally. It is inevitable that the dance form as practiced in the current context will transform to some degree in order to accommodate these views.

In this issue of Global Rasika, our writers carefully examine Odissi as it is taken out of its cultural roots and into an international context: Commodification of Odissi, practicing the art as a static vs. living dance form, re-examining the concepts of rasa and rasika to increase accessibility of the art form, and the experience of teaching and learning Odissi in Russia, are some of the topics explored in this issue. We are also pleased to feature Malaysian Odissi dancer January Low, who enhanced our discussions by sharing her own experiences as a performer.

I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to our contributors for this issue: Aastha Gandhi, Elena Catalano, Nabanita (Neeta} Pal, and Taiisia Shpulnikova – Thank you all for sharing your research, personal and professional experiences and observations to make Global Rasika what we strive to be. Special thanks to Debiprasad Sahoo who was generous enough to contribute his images once more for this issue.

We encourage all of you to continue to read, share and discuss… and contribute to our efforts to build a global network of dancers, scholars, researchers, critics to cultivate thought-leadership for the cause of Odissi.

Thank you for your support and for taking this journey with us.

Sonali Mishra
Editor, Global Rasika
July 2014
New York

January’s Journey: Confessions of a Dancer

Photo Courtesy: Karthik Venkataraman

Photo Courtesy: Karthik Venkataraman

Global Rasika had a chance to speak with the exquisite January Low, former principle dancer of Malaysia-based Sutra Dance Theater founded by eminent Dance Artiste, Ramli Ibrahim. January initially began her dance training in ballet, and then Bharatanatyam and Odissi. She ultimately concentrated her efforts solely on Odissi as the years passed. She has performed widely as a soloist and as part of Sutra Dance Theater’s repertory group. In 2003 she was presented with the Kakiseni Award for best Solo Performance. In 2009 she was accepted to the Asia-Africa Dance Exchange hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Korea. After years of touring and performing, January refocused her energies for another important role – that of wife and mother. Today January shares her professional and personal journey with us:

[Read more…]

Redefining Odissi: A “Contemporary” Approach

by Aastha Gandhi

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

As a dancer, one may often ponder, “How could I portray my life in an urban setting through this very traditional dance form? Do I have to give up the mythical stories and the heavy attire? If I do, then would the form still be considered Odissi? But then again, my dancing body would still move to and retain the Odissi technique,” this raises the question if the dance is merely defined by its traditional attire, traditional themes and the repertoire? Broadly, the quest is about tradition being accepted as a “given” text, merely to be followed, in “different ways” or if it can be learnt as a language from which new texts can be written, new vocabularies can be created as a mode of self-expression? Does that mean that it is acceptable to talk about these ‘given texts’ as boundaries? Can one then negotiate with these boundaries? Is the dance then living up to its ultimate goal of liberating the body? [Read more…]

Democratising Rasa (or the pleasure of the lay rasika)

by Elena Catalano

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

It is a common practice in the West to introduce an Odissi performance with brief descriptions of the items presented by the dancer. These introductions normally provide basic information about the rhythmic and melodic accompaniment of the dance or, in the case of abhinaya, about the text the dance interprets through gestures, movements or facial expressions. However, they are, more often than not, clichéd descriptions that dispense scant hints in support of the dance’s appreciation. While certainly satisfying a few who are already familiar with the aesthetics of Odissi, these introductions are nevertheless either too brief or too technical to substantially add to the reception of the performance by the wider audience. When not by the presenter, these descriptions may be uttered by the performer herself, hidden behind the scenes, as if coming on stage to talk to the audience would compromise her aura of immaculate and speechless apsara unable to communicate with her body and her voice at once. [Read more…]

Finding Meaning in Odissi Through Dislocation: One Perspective of a Diaspora Dancer

by Nabanita Pal

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo


(i) Odissi is Not a Commodity
Odissi in the United States (U.S.) was first nurtured in people’s homes, in basements and garages converted into makeshift dance studios. Before there were performances in professional theaters, group productions, and Mancha Praveshes, there were small classes that started through word of mouth. I can delineate much of my childhood and adolescence by parts of the Odissi repertoire. First grade was Mangalacharan. Second grade was Stayi. Third Grade was Batu, and so on and so forth. Just as I grew up with this art form, it too grew with the tireless efforts of teachers and promoters who built a base of future Odissi dancers, one student at a time. [Read more…]

From Russia With Love: Taking Odissi Abroad

by Taiisia Shpulnikova

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Modern Odissi, despite being a fairly young dance form, has experienced worldwide popularity in a relatively short period of time. Established dance schools in Bhubaneswar attract new students from around the world every year. The number of regular returning students is growing exponentially. A significant proportion of these regular students come from Russia. As an Odissi dancer based in Moscow, I feel there is much to be shared from our collective experiences as a community of Odissi dancers, teachers and ultimately, promoters of the style abroad. [Read more…]

Redefining Odissi in a Global Context: Contributors July 2014

Elena Catalano is an Odissi dancer, researcher and lecturer currently based in the UK. She has recently completed a fully funded PhD in Dance Anthropology at Durham University with a project on somatic experience in Odissi. Elena holds also a BA and MA in Cultural Anthropology (Università La Sapienza, Italy), a Master in Dance (University of Surrey, UK) and in Cultural Management (Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, Spain). She has received several scholarships and bursaries  to carry out her studies, dance training and fieldwork abroad. Elena has done research in India (New Delhi and Orissa), Africa (Ghana) and Europe (Spain and Italy), publishing and receiving accolades for her dance writing, including the ‘Premlata Sharma Award 2012’, the ‘Pauline Hodgens Award 2010’ and the ‘Paola Bianchi Award 2009’. She can be reached at elenacatalanodance@gmail.com

Aastha Gandhi is an independent performance researcher and a dancer, following Guru Surendranath Jena style of Odissi. She researched on Odissi dance, its historiography, practice and problems within the established parampara, as part of her M. Phil dissertation (2006- 2008), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her subsequent work has been published in Conference Proceedings of WDA- Global Summit, “Dance Dialogues: conversations across cultures, artforms and practices” Brisbane (2009) and WDA’s Journal of Emerging Dance Scholars (2013). She is also an active member of World Dance Alliance and has tparticipated in its various festivals in different capacities; master class trainer, paper presentation and performance at its various festivals in Hong Kong (2006), Australia (2008) and France (2014). She also performed in Japan as a part of a month- long cultural exchange programme (2008).Her current area of research engages with city space and its evolving metaphors of performance, at scholarly as well as performance level. She can be reached at aastha.odc@gmail.com

Nabanita (Neeta) Pal is an Odissi dancer. Originally from the Washington DC area, she is now based in Oakland, California. From 2009-2010, she was a U.S. Fulbright Scholar at the Orissa Dance Academy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University and is currently finishing up a law degree at University of California, Berkeley. Neeta plans to practice public interest law and support movements for social justice in the United States. She is interested in exploring and developing nuanced storytelling techniques that bridge her passion for dance and advocacy. She can be reached at npal09@gmail.com

Debiprasad Sahoo is budding photographer based in Bhubaneswar with a passion for Odissi dance. He is also a web application developer and entrepreneur by profession. His photography page can also be found Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DebiprasadSahooPhotography. He can be reached at debiprasad.s@gmail.com

Taissia Shpulnikova is a professional odissi dancer and based in Moscow, Russia. She has received education in several kinds of art including painting and classical music and has studied history and archives at Russian State University for the Humanities. Taissia runs a dance school in Moscow and devotes most of her time to spreading odissi dance in Russia. Her current areas of interest include extensive dance research and collaboration with practitioners of other dance styles. She can be reached at melodissi@gmail.com