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The Youth Brigade of Odissi
Photos: Onoobroto

February 4, 2019

How does grooming of a classical dance form for the tiny tots make progress from year to year -- under the vigilant eyes of a dedicated teacher? It was a rare opportunity for this critic to observe four budding artistes - Asmita Kar, Tanishka Roy, Moumita Pal and Shinjinee Bhattacharya -- literally grow from last year's Taranga Dance Festival to this year's event, nurtured with the loving care of Nandini Ghoshal, a second-generation Odissi guru. Nandini herself was first initiated into her classical style under Poushali Mukherjee of Kolkata and then received a sustained teaching process under the redoubtable Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra for 17 long years, graduating into the leading roles of his dance dramas thereafter. Handed over the reins for youngsters now, how did Nandini handle her onerous mission?

Says the demure guru (with an enviable exposure for herself both on the stage and the celluloid), "At my dance school, I have 80-90 students, besides another 100 or so in three other centres. I let the learning process start at the age of six, and not earlier. My first concern is to let the little ones loose and allow them to develop a love for dance, nothing more. Once I make sure they have grown a seeming passion for the art, I initiate them gently into the technique, my second step. I know now that howsoever strict I am with them in my teaching, they would not stray! My third task is to initiate them into abhinaya, but only with the proviso that they retain their individuality. I don't seek to let them become a carbon copy of their guru, because for me their personal attitude and approach are of the essence."

Asmita Kar

Tanishka Roy

In this year's Taranga Dance Festival presented on January 27 by Saveri Odissi Dance School, it was a pleasure to let this teaching process reveal itself among youngsters. Asmita Kar, all of 14, began with a Mangalacharan followed by a Saraswati Vandana. The deity of learning came alive holding her resonating stringed lyre, holding a book, and sitting on a white-petalled lotus. One prayed to the lotus-eyed goddess, seeking knowledge. Asmita came again with a well-known ashtapadi from Gita Govinda, Chandan charchita neela kalaevara peeta basand Banamali..., with due regard to abhinaya. She has grown quite well.

Next came Tanishka Roy, a bundle of 15 autumns and a CCRT scholarship-holder to boot, with luminous eyes and eloquent demeanour. Her Saavinaya Pallavi, Aajo mu dekhili Ghanshyam ku go...described the first sight of Krishna by Radha and her world of wonder at the spell-binding vision of the divinity. Her torso frequently flexing backwards was particularly attractive. In raga Bilahari and tala ektali, she described the abiding spell on her, for, she has since been chanting his name like a sacred hymn ever since. Her abhinaya presentation was another Kelubabu composition, Jhare banadhara shrabano ki..., with melodious music, describing dark clouds making a maiden jump in joy, winds roaring like a lion and thunders ripping the earth with Indra's wrath. Tanishka's growth was very impressive.

Moumita Pal

Shinjinee Bhattacharya

Moumita Pal, another talented teenager dancer, presented an ambitious Dashavaatar Stotra entirely on her own, based on a Kelubabu choreography. All the ten incarnations were paid due regard, with meticulous care. Now a student of Dona Ganguly, Moumita later came in with a picture-perfect Pallavi, in Kalashree raga and tala ektali. Composed by Nandini, the Pallavi described a river's tortuous flow, jumping over the impeding rocks, bending around stone edges and occasionally lapping the banks. She too, has developed well.

Shinjinee Bhattacharya, a 19-year-old dancer and also a CCRT scholar, revealed her talents with abhinaya accompanying a Champu song. An Odisha speciality based on alliterative alphabets, it was a Kelubabu composition in khemta tala. The song, Lelanidhi he, laje mu galiti sori... describes Radha's wailing cry, with Krishna having stolen her clothes. She pleads with the pastoral god to restore her to a decent state as she had been before, since she was dying in shame. The dance was quite well executed. Her other item was a Dhrupandanga Pallavi in raga Bageshri and tala ektali. With music by Raghunath Panigrahi and choreography by Sanjukta Panigrahi, it was a dancer's delight and revealed Shinjinee's growing maturity.

A late addition was the ICCR scholar from Sweden, Ulrika Larsen, who has been dancing for 24 years and doing her best in promoting Odissi in Sweden, having already made it part of her country's festivals. A student of Aruna Mohanty, she staged a Ramani Ranjan Jena composition, Nava Durga - manifestation of the revered deity into nine forms for slaying an array of demons - starting from Shumbha and Nishumbha, and ending with Mahishasura, in a composition by Pankaj Charan Das. Later on, she presented a Kelubabu composition, Hamsadhwani Pallavi in ektali, with music by Bhubaneswar Misra. While Ulrika's sincerity was beyond all doubt, one wondered if her intents had not overtaken her form with advancing age.

Ulrika Larsen


A crowning glory was the delightful Arabi Pallavi by 11-year-olds with evident enjoyment and visibly good choreography. With an exalted composition by Kelubabu, the tiny tots - Mandira, Jagari, Abhipsa, Aparajita, Ankana, Srija and Jahnabi -- made an excellent job of their given task, their steps born out of a slow rhythm and progressing with increasing swiftness towards a thundering climax. The little ones amply justified the confidence reposed in them.

Adequate vocal support was provided by Dinesh Paul, and instrumental support on mardala by Kishore Ghosh, on sitar by Sukhomoy Paul, on flute by Jayanta Chatterjee and on violin by Filip Magusson.

Dr. Utpal K Banerjee is a scholar-commentator on performing arts over last four decades. He has authored 23 books on Indian art and culture, and 10 on Tagore studies. He served IGNCA as National Project Director, was a Tagore Research Scholar and is recipient of Padma Shri.

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