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Ekaika solo Odissi performance by Aarya Nande

August 25, 2016

Guru Gajendra Panda, principal disciple of late Guru Deba Prasad Das, has taken upon himself to revive solo dance format and project his guru's concepts through it, by some of his talented students. He presented his disciple, young Aarya Nande from Sarangarh, on the border of Odisha, at Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar, recently. Under the title Ekaika, meaning solo, Gajendra Panda plans to make it a regular event at short intervals.

He feels that the recent trend is of group presentations of Odissi at all major national festivals. Be it Konark Dance Festival or Khajuraho Dance Festival, the emphasis is on group dance, with the result the potential of a talented solo dancer is marginalised. Under his institution Tridhara, suggesting three streams of his guru's approach, tribal, folk and traditional Odissi, he has launched this scheme with support of the Ministry of Culture, Govt of Odisha and is determined to bring the glory of solo dancing back on the stage.

His concern has been echoed by dance observers and critics. However, the organizers feel that group dance offers scope for many young dancers to perform and on a large performing arena solo dance loses its reach beyond certain distance. Both arguments have some validity. In an auditorium with a capacity of say 500 seats, performance by a solo dancer is still seen clearly and abhinaya also could be discerned. Gajendra Panda feels that in face of severe competition of group dance, he would rather opt for solo dance presentation.

Aarya Nande has an attractive stage presence. Gajendra Panda had lined up many dignitaries including some supporters from Sarangarh on the stage. He also honoured Guru Ma, wife of Guru Deba Prasad Das on this occasion. Recalling Guru Deba Prasad's long association with Indrani Rahman, who travelled internationally placing Odissi on the world map, the dignitaries also spoke about the spread of Odissi in neighbouring areas like Sarangarh. If the Odiyas living there also take to supporting Odissi, the focus will not just remain limited to young dancers living in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, but will also bring to notice the talent in those areas.

Aarya Nande opened her recital with traditional Mangalacharan set to raga Mangal Gurjari and Lalita, to tala ektali and jati. The invocation dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Narasimha had the hallmark of Guru Deba Prasad Das's usage of Sabdaswarapata. This tradition of Sabdaswarapata, like the Kavits in Kathak, lend an aural texture with epithets and mnemonic syllables. The divinity addressed is visualized in its benign and ferocious forms. Aarya succeeded in creating that impact. Known for his choreography of sthayi nritya, it at once sets apart Deba Prasad bani with the recitation of the ukutas, mnemonic syllables like kititkka tahum tahum ta theinda. It has a specific lilt in raga Ragesree set to ektali. Taking rounds, using the space in circles, with arms alternating and alternately turning in front and back, Aarya created the feel of this specific number in nritta. There is an enjoyable appeal of this number with accompaniment of the mardala.

Odiya bhajan in praise of Lord Jagannath, Manaudharana, by Kavisamrat Upendra Bhanja set to raga Mishra Arabhi and tala triputa, has been choreographed with communicative sanchari bhavas. Lord Jagannatha when worshipped by his devotees takes care of them. The impersonation of a blind beggar holding stick, walking in a direction from where he was listening to the prayer, was impressive. You are the resort of those who have no resort - Anatha re nath Jagannath - refrain reinforced the feeling.

Similarly the episode of Gajaraj, when playing in water, caught by a crocodile had enough dramatic elements. Praying to Lord Vishnu astride his vehicle Garuda, holding Sudarshan chakra in his hand, Gajaraj seeks the lord's help to rescue him. The lord sends Sudarshan disc and Gajaraj's foot is released from the jaws of the crocodile. The movements of Gajaraj being dragged, suggesting his helplessness and registering with appropriate expressions, were graphic.

The court scene, the game of dice, Pandavas losing the game, Shakuni's laughter, Yudhishthir's dilemma and Draupadi's humiliation as he stakes her in the game, loses her, Dushashana's dragging her to court and trying to disrobe her, all these enactments have familiarity with the audiences. It is performed with appropriate expressions. But what the guru and the dancer have to guard against is the exaggerated laughter, the over the top abhinaya. The restraint would help Aarya to project these incidents with subtlety. She has to be groomed in these areas to avoid old time stereotype abhinaya, which is theatrical as opposed to artistic.

One more sanchari is of how Lord Shiva saved devotee Markandeya when he clung to the Shiva linga and Lord Shiva himself protected him driving away Yamaraja when he came to pick up Markandeya. These sanchari bhavas, no wonder, are understood by the audience (in Aarya's case there was a round of applause), but in order to invest the choreography with a certain type of dignity and restraint, the abhinaya needs to be toned down.

Pure dance number Pallavi choreographed by Gajendra in Kirvani to the music composed by Laxmikant Palit, had inclusion of some movements of folk dance. There was an element of abandon in execution of movements, lifting of the leg, waving of the arms, often dancer sitting and gradually getting up, performing in circle. Gajendra has included motifs of playing upon mardala, veena, manjira and flute. Also to further embellish, the dancer using Darpani bhangi, shows putting on ornaments. Dancing pure dance to solfa syllables brought out imaginative musical approach. However, Aarya has to develop a strong execution of chauka as in viparita bhramari, anti clockwise movements, often one noticed imbalance. The pure dance demands strong technique which has to be practiced. That would bring polish to renderings of nritta.

The concluding Durga Tandava saw Aarya performing with vigorous movements to enhance the mood of tandava by the goddess Durga. The combat with Mahishasura was effective winning her rounds of applause. The ten armed, Dashabhuja, goddess in all her fury, and recitation of Sabdaswarapata, describing her ferocious form, with red colour lighting was impressive. Aarya was in her element and danced with frenzy becoming his mood. Guru Deba Prasad Das is known for such compositions which he brought within the fold of Odissi repertoire.

A word about the music. The vocalist Vinod Bihari Panda rendered the text of the song in a powerful voice. The accompaniment on mardala by Ramachandra Behera, violin by Agnimitra Behera, sitar by Swapaneswar Chakrabarti, flute by Jabahar Misra was supportive to evoke the right moods. It indeed is heartening to see that Guru Gajendra Panda has been keeping the tradition of Guru Deba Prasad Das alive. He himself is a performing artist and choreographs various items in Odissi, which have a flavour of newness.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and critic. He is honored with Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Senior Critic Award from Dance Critics Association, NYC.

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