From Proscenium to the Public: Alternative Spaces in Performance

by Ashwini Raghupathy

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Photo Courtesy: Ddebiprasad Sahoo

In April earlier this year, a video was uploaded on Youtube which created a furor that launched a barrage of discussions on social media which continue even today. The clip showed a dancer Aleksy Furdak, also known as Gaura Natraj Das, an American performing Bharatanatyam in a metro station in the USA. ( ) This performance was not the first of its kind, as other dancers, including myself, have been exploring public spaces to present traditional Indian dances. Here you see another Bharatanatyam dancer, Jai Khalsa, and here is a video featuring me which encapsulated a little of my work in this area :

While I personally have not spoken to the above-mentioned dancers, I have realised from my own experience that there will be detractors every time one challenges the status quo in any field. When I started to dance Odissi in the parks and streets of Bangalore. I received a fair share of criticism, some of which I have outlined here:

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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…]

Agency and Gender: the New Identity of the Female Odissi Dancer in a National and Transnational Perspective

by Shilpa Bertuletti

Duet Dancers

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo


In this period of socio-economic change in the globalized world, the formation of individual cultural identity in India is marked by the contestation between national, global, regional and local socio-political forces, influencing also the world of Indian Classical Dance. Odissi, which is now practised throughout India and in other parts of the world is a classical dance form born in the state of Odisha. The narrative that I want to describe has emerged from my two identities: one, a scholar interested in the relationship between representation, identity and gender, and the other, an Indo-Italian Odissi practitioner interested in the long tradition of this dance and its relationship with the west. It was during my intimate association with the world of classical dance in India that I began to see some of its interesting relationships: using an ethnographic field methods, I saw how Odissi dance is transforming itself due to the changing conditions of patronage, national, regional and local politics and the increasing involvement in dance of middle class and lower middle-class women.


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A Country in Itself: Talking about Identity

by Laurence LeBail

“ Those who declare cultures to be irreducible one to the other,
do they ever wonder that one speech, from the very place from where it was born,
still gets through all obstacles and attains across the world, to be understood ? “[1]

Kurma Mudra

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

If there is any art claiming for its regional identity, Odissi is certainly one of them, as stated by its name alone. In an interview conducted in a temple near Balasore in 2010, Guru Ramani Rajan Jena together with my guru, Smt. Sujata Mohapatra pointed out how deeply Odissi is rooted in the culture of Orissa, even in the most ordinary mannerisms, or ordinary technique of the body [2].  Those mannerisms are taken for natural, but they are not in fact more natural nor instinctive than the mother tongue itself : they are the inherited body language, early learned by simple imitation of the mother’s ways of moving. Both of the gurus agreed on saying that an American woman, or even a Bengali woman, would move her head and chin differently from an Odishan woman when calling her husband. Thus, when Dinanath Pathy writes : “Do foreigners taking up the dance corrupt it ?“[3], he may express a concern of the Odishan audience, sensitive to the special quality of ordinary movement and attitudes that innerves the extraordinary dance technique and exhale for them the very flavor of Odissi – that is the sap of lokadharmi enlivening natyadharmi. Yet there must be a strong element of universality in Odissi – otherwise not so many foreign audience would sit and clap nor would foreign dancers travel such a long way from their remote countries to properly learn the dance. “The toile de fond of dance in India is not only what a historian can describe, because it goes far beyond the history of an individual or of a nation” wrote Sanjukta Panigrahi[4]. [Read more…]

When Local Goes Global: Odissi’s Identity Crises

by Sonali Mishra

Saree of the dancer

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

Odissi is one of many cultural practices in the world that has expanded beyond its local roots to a national and international framework. Considered a relatively new style in the pantheon of Indian classical dance, Odissi’s continued evolution on a global, rather than local [or semi-local] scale has raised concerns with regards to the loss of its unique cultural identity. Debates regarding authenticity, purity and dilution of the dance form have dominated many a seminar in the Odissi community in Odisha. Odissi’s growing popularity internationally asks that we re-examine tradition and modernity in a changing context, where the parameters that once defined the form are now blurred. The challenge for this generation of dance practitioners is to evolve the form in a modern context whilst maintaining the unique distinguishing elements of Odissi. To do so requires a thorough understanding of the dance form, as well as a willingness to explore new ideas.

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Odissi Questions an Odia Heart…

by Sanatani Rombola

Painting of Lord Jagannath displaying his eye

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

My name is Sanatani Devi Dasi Rombola. Devi Dasi, my middle name, was given to me at birth. I am a strong believer in God, and I give Him a name and a form. I believe in His perfect plan of life: that each of us deserves to grow and complete our unfinished business, to develop true love for Him and to meet other beings with whom we share our karmas with. This is the only way I can explain how I have been living my life all these years. One coincidence after another has led me to what I believe is my true identity: my love for God and for the country that, at least for me, holds the most convincing culture: India. [Read more…]

This Place We Call Home

by Ranjana Dave

A mudra by a dancer

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

What characterises a classical dance, and how does the geography of language shape this identity? Odissi makes for an interesting case in point. Its provenance is established and solidified by linking it to the history of Orissan temple sculpture, and later to practices of performance and worship that flourished within and around Orissan temple spaces. [Read more…]