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Madhavi Mudgal -'surprised and glad' to be chosen for Nritya Choodamani 2004
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai

November 15, 2004
One of the leading classical dancers of India, Madhavi Mudgal is a highly renowned exponent of the Odissi style. Madhavi was born into a family devoted to classical Indian music. Her father, Pandit Vinaya Chandra Maudgalya was the founder of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi in 1939. Initially studying Bharatanatyam and Kathak under eminent gurus, she finally chose Odissi as her medium of expression. A prime disciple of legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, she is credited with bringing a greatly refined sensibility to her art form.

She has received repeated acclaim in the major cities and dance festivals that have featured her throughout the world: like the Edinburgh International Festival, U.K.; Festival of India in USA; the Cervantino Festival, Mexico; Vienna Dance Festival, Austria; Festival of Indian Dance, South Africa; Festival of Indian Culture, Sao Paulo, Brazil; Days of Indian Culture, Hungary; Festival of Indian Arts, London; the Avignon Festival, France; Pina Bausch's Festival, Wuppertal and Berlin Festpiele, Germany; and festivals in Italy, Spain, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan and the Indian subcontinent. She has been associated with the making of several films and audio-visuals on Odissi as well as with the organisation of some of the most widely appreciated specialised dance festivals in India.

Apart from establishing a niche in the international dance scene as a soloist, she has received critical acclaim for her choreographic works: her extensive training under renowned gurus from childhood, and her family's musical background having provided her with a rare insight into the art of choreography. Her commitment to the continuation and augmentation of her chosen art form has seen her as one of the foremost teachers in her generation, initiating beginners as well as senior students into the finer nuances of Odissi at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi. She has also conducted workshops in the dance form all over the world.

Numerous awards and honours have come her way, including the Sanskriti Award, 1984, President of India's award of Padma Shri, 1990, the Orissa State Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, 1996, Grande Medaille de la Ville by the city of Paris, 1997, and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, 2000, and the Delhi State Parishad Samman, 2002.

Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (Chennai) will confer the title Nritya Choodamani on Madhavi Mudgal on December 9, 2004. She shares her thoughts with

You trained in Bharatanatyam and Kathak before taking up Odissi as your preferred medium. What influenced this decision?
The lyricism and subtlety of the form attracted me. As a child, when I was introduced to dance, only Bharatanatyam and Kathak were available as classical styles. Later, in my teens, the language barrier with Bharatanatyam and the showmanship of Kathak made me switch to Odissi which had begun to be taught in Delhi just then. Also, the challenges offered by an as-yet nascent form.

Has your training in Bharatanatyam and Kathak enhanced your movements in any way? If so, how?
Certainly. The training in Kathak and Bharatanatyam equipped me with an insight into varied dance vocabularies. This helped me comprehend Odissi technique in a holistic manner. Tala was definitely strengthened due to Kathak. Bharatanatyam enriched my understanding of abhinaya and geometry; while both the styles strengthened the foundational requirement of utilizing space in a specific, given time.

What important elements in your style have you imbibed from your Odissi gurus?
Most of what one has, is imbibed. It is for the thinking dancer to build on this foundation. How much is the guru's, and how much one's own may not be very relevant for me to say.

What were your thoughts when told that you were the recipient of the Nritya Choodamani award this year?
I was surprised - and very glad. Specially because this is such a prestigious Sabha. And also because it is in Chennai, which houses so many dancer's dreams.

Can you tell us about your work at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya?
Apart from teaching Odissi to various age groups, junior and senior, I am involved in preparing a teaching methodology that will be of benefit to all students of the style (there is a lacuna in this field, since there is hardly a standardized understanding of even the basic grammar of the style amongst various gurus). I am also involved in composing and choreographing pieces for solo dance as well as for groups.

Why do you think Odissi has been unable to get a strong foothold in south India?
Possibly because people tend to want to be in familiar territory - they would like to hear and see something they understand, and are naturally more comfortable with. The South is a little more orthodox in this regard, I think. The lack of good teachers and exponents of other forms, could also be a reason.

What do you think is the need of the hour to propagate awareness of Odissi, to attract more people to watch Odissi programs, especially in places like Chennai where we rarely get to see Odissi performances, yet there are few takers when someone cares to organize one?
This can only happen if some courageous organizers take the lead. Programmes need to be properly publicized and presented aesthetically. In the season, too many other programmes drown out the few performances in the other styles. The timing of a programme is important, as well as the choice of artiste.

What are your thoughts regarding experimentation with Odissi movements by the current generation? Do you have any advice for upcoming artistes?
Experimentation is always welcome, but presentation needs to be done with care and thought.

Understanding the roots of the dance form allows one to experiment meaningfully. Without this understanding one is floundering in deep waters.

What is the most memorable moment of your career?
It's difficult to pinpoint one. Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's acceptance of me as a disciple would be certainly one of the most important.

Madhavi Mudgal
164 Golf Links
New Delhi 110 003, India
Phone/Fax: (91-11) - 24611478