Mediating Odissi Culture: My Experience

Photo Courtesy: Susil Pani

Photo Courtesy: Susil Pani

by Saswat Joshi 

In 2006, I went abroad for the first time to South Korea with my Guru Dr. Ileana Citaristi to assist her with an Odissi workshop she was conducting. Being from the state of Odisha, that was the first time I felt like a true ambassador of Odiya culture. I began to think more in-depth about certain aspects of my culture that I had always taken for granted. One very simple example is attire: during the workshop I wore a dhoti, which I had always worn as a student at the Odissi Research Center. The workshop participants were quite excited to see me each morning because I was dressed in this traditional attire. Another example is that of “Guru Pranam.” Touching the Guru’s feet and taking their blessing was something the students were not familiar with. But every morning before the workshop session started, I would touch my Guru’s feet, as this is part of our tradition of learning dance, and something I was quite proud of. On the very last day of the workshop, without any prompting, the students came and touched our feet.

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Editor’s Note

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Hello Dear Readers! We are delighted to present the summer issue of Global Rasika, an online initiative launched in 2014 to cultivate critical thinking and discourse across the Odissi dance community worldwide.

This issue of Global Rasika, “Changing Paradigms in Odissi Dance,” explores the changing dimensions in Odissi’s ecosystem and their possible future impact in today’s context. The last decade or so has brought about dramatic transitions in the world – economic, political, cultural, and social. These changes, further intensified by the internet and social media, have drastically altered the value systems not only in India but throughout the world. Thus, changes in the overall dynamics: our understanding, approach, practice and promotion of classical dance – is inevitable.

In this issue, our writers express their views on several live debates amongst the Odissi fraternity today: Dance as means of unlocking creative potential, performance in alternative spaces, a departure from the conventional mode of learning in pursuit of an individual artistic journey, and exploring Odissi as a means of creative expression. Our writers challenge the ingrained set of values that have defined the ‘norm’ in the field and which, if not examined carefully, will run the risk of doing the art form more harm than good.

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with veteran Odissi dancer Guru Smt. Aruna Mohanty, who offers valuable insight and perspective from her active involvement in the dance field over the last several decades.

We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the contributors for this issue: Merle O’Brien, Ayona Bhaduri, Ashwini Raghupathy and Fatima Montero, for drawing upon their own experiences and research to share with our readers. We also would like to thank photographer Debiprasad Sahoo, who has accompanied us on this journey from the very beginning and who continues to support our vision.

As with our previous issues, we humbly request our readers to please read, analyze and discuss the ideas presented here. It is our hope that with continued discourse, we can collectively contribute to the continuous and holistic transformation and progression of Odissi, helping to retain and hopefully further its position as a leading form of dance expression not just amongst classical forms in India but amongst all forms of dance globally. We welcome your feedback and suggestions to further our efforts to create a vibrant, engaged, and aware Odissi community worldwide.

Many thanks to you: our growing list of readers – for your continued support and enthusiasm.

Sonali Mishra
Editor, Global Rasika
July 2015
Detroit

Portrait of the Artist: Guru Smt. Aruna Mohanty

Photo Courtesy: Shantanu Das

Photo Courtesy: Shantanu Das

Guru Smt. Aruna Mohanty has the unique distinction in the Odissi fraternity to operate par excellence on multiple levels – performer, teacher, choreographer, administrator, and organizer. A master strategist, she continues to keep a pulse on the broader trends of the dance world, as reflected in her work. Guru Smt. Aruna Mohanty’s global outlook, combined with her sensitivity to local issues, has made her a thought leader in the field, and was the most obvious choice for this issue’s featured artist. She has earned numerous accolades for her contribution to Odissi to include: the Mahari Award (1997), Sanjukta Panigrahi Memorial National Award (2001), Fellowship by Ministry of HRD, Government of India, and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Puraskar Award in 2010. She also served as vice-president of the Odisha Sangeet Natak Academy. Currently Director of Orissa Dance Academy, Guru Smt. Aruna Mohanty shares her views on the changing landscape of Odissi dance over the years:

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The Dance of Creativity

by Merle O’Brien

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

 

As the fields of art and science move to a common space in the 21st century, creativity is taking centrestage in all fields of human endeavor, driving a new form of economy and redefining itself from an art into a lifescience.

Working as a Futurist at the forefront of creativity, design and front end innovation – while also being an Odissi danseuse, training in one of the world’s oldest forms of codified creativity, I see that the future of creativity looks remarkably similar to its most ancient past. If this holds true, Odissi may find itself becoming increasingly relevant as an educational technology for neuro-muscular entrainment to unlock human creative potential.

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Odissi: Exploring an Evolving Tradition

by Fatima Montero

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Whatever remains unmentioned should be included into practice by experts from an observation of people – NS XXXVI, 83.

To this ending of the treatise Manomohan Ghosh very appropriately comments in his edition: “this shows that the author of the Sastra did not like to see drama eternally tied to his prescriptions.”
We learn and we teach. That is essence of being human: we have the ability to share our knowledge with the next generation, which is how civilizations have been built. This system will collapse if we neglect it, but it will also collapse if we do not add to it. Dances are the expression through the movement of the body. Dance needs music, decoration, emotions and ideas to express, but ultimately dance is movement. We should know what the essence of our art form is, keeping this in mind before modifying it and before criticizing others for modifying it. What exactly does Odissi need to be considered Odissi? What are the indispensable elements in our dance form that distinguishes it from the others? The elements that we cannot take away? What is its real essence? The first and main focus on our list must be attributes of movement.

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Bijayini Satpathy@Nrityagram: Classical Dance in a Contemporary Context

Photo Courtesy: Kartik Venkataraman

Photo Courtesy: Kartik Venkataraman

When Bijayini Satpathy first set foot in Nrityagram, the Odissi dance institute founded by the Late Protima Gauri Bedi, she knew there was no turning back. In her twenty-plus years at Nrityagram, she, along with famed dancer-choreographer Surupa Sen, have successfully crossed cultural and linguistic barriers to carve a niche for themselves in the international dance arena. Arguably one of the most sought after dance ensembles in the world, Nrityagram has worked extensively to explore and expand the pedagogy and dance vocabulary of Odissi, drawing upon various movement disciplines to inform their process and approach. Bijayini Satpathy, currently serving as Director of Training, shares with us her own personal journey at Nrityagram, her thoughts on Odissi, and Nrityagram’s approach to dance education.

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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…]