Twentieth Year Celebrations of Odissi exponent Ranjana Gauhar's Utsav Institution  
- Dr Sunil Kothari, Delhi 
 
April 19, 2008 

A disciple of Guru Mayadhar Raut, Padma Shri awardee Ranjana Gauhar has received this year's Sangeet Natak Akademi award for Odissi. She celebrated twenty years of her institution Utsav with a two-day festival titled 'Unbound Beats of Indian dance and music,' featuring five artists from abroad along with veena player Sarasvati Rajagopalan, Bharatanatyam exponent Pratibha Prahlad and herself in Odissi.  
 

From Birmingham came musician Ameet Gauher, who played the musical instrument Didgeridoo of the indigenous people of Australia. He played using the art of circular breathing that takes one on journey of rhythms, beats and earth sound. He later on played with a group of musicians, consisting of on tabla Akram Khan, on sitar Mohsin Khan and on flute Kiran Kumar. It is rare that this instrument and other Indian musical instruments have been played in unison.  Kuchipudi exponent Bettina Breese was from Berlin. Kathak exponent Durga Arya came from Essen, Bharatanatyam dancer Chitraleka Bolar came from Birmingham and the celebrated Odissi male dancer Ramli Ibrahim and his disciple January Low, came from Kuala Lumpur. 
 
  
Ranjana Gauhar had begun her career as a theatre actor working with renowned director Rajendra Nath, for his Abhiyan institute. The first role she had essayed was that of Gulabi in Ghasiram Kotwal, in the year 1974. I recollect she had sent me a contact sheet of her photographs in Odissi way back in 1975. By then she had started studying Odissi under Guru Mayadhar Raut. I was a dance critic based in Mumbai writing for The Times of India with a by-line. I was also in charge of Kal-keľKalakar dance festival for Sur Singar Samsad, presenting young dancers at the C J Hall. I used to receive several letters and photographs, publicity material from dancers.  We remembered those days when we met at leisure after the completion of the Utsav Festival. 

Ranjana continued her theatre activity along with dance training. She acted in other plays like Natak Polpur Ka, also worked with the film star Raj Babbar, before he left theatre for films, Alibaba, Mahanirvan and a Greek play Lysistrata in Hindi. Later on, she gave up theatre and concentrated in studying and performing Odissi. 

Establishing her institution, she also started teaching, which helped her immensely to learn the intricacies of Odissi. She also took lessons in Mayurbhanj Chhau from Janmejay Sai Babu who used to teach at Sri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra. She took private lessons from him. She has also used Mayurbhanj Chhau in her dance-dramas and compositions. 

Besides this, Ranjana has been very active in research work and has also made films for Ministry of External Affairs, Ford Foundation, Doordarshan and DD Bharati. The films include 'Celestial Dancers of Jagannath Temple' dealing with the Maharis, 'Saundarya Lahari' in five parts covering major sequences of the Gita Govinda, 'Nectar in Stone' tracing the Hindu Temples in Vietnam and Cambodia (for Ministry of External Affairs), for Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) 28 episodes of various dance forms for educational purpose, 'Odissi Chandrika' tracing the evolution of Odissi dance.  

She has recently published a book 'Odissi-the Dance Divine' for Neogi Books. 
 

  
On 9th April, I was unable to attend the festival as I was away in Ahmedabad, attending 70 years career celebrations of Mrinalini Sarabhai. 'Unbound Beats' bought together on one platform on the first day, musician Ameet Gauher from Essen Birju Maharaj's disciple Durga Arya who performed Kathak, a young Kuchipudi dancer Bettina Breese from Berlin who performed Kuchipudi, and Ranjana Gauhar presented Odissi. 
Next day on 10th April, Sarasvati Rajagopalan gave a brief veena recital followed by Chitraleka Bolar in Bharatanatyam. 

Chitraleka from Bangalore is now settled in Birmingham for more than 25 years, and teaches Bharatanatyam besides choreographing dance works. For the past two years she had given up dancing, but once again she has started performing it. The Ragamalika Varnam had old world charm. Indian diaspora take great care to maintain the exacting standards while teaching and often it looks very refreshing to see different banis. Chitraleka's nritta was flawless and movements clear, angashuddha commendable and her own choreography displayed her flair for imagination. Her abhinaya is restrained but quite eloquent. 

I have seen her work in Birmingham and also one of the contemporary works 'The Story of C' she had choreographed inviting Bangalore based Kathak dancers Rajendra and Nirupama and also using Bharatanatyam technique. The element C stands for Carbon. The work was specially commissioned for a science conference. It was a pleasure to catch up with her and see that she has maintained the technique of her mentor so well. 
 
Pratibha Prahlad performed Thyagaraja Panchartna kriti 'Saadhinchane' in a varnam format. Her execution of nritta was energetic and forceful. In full command with a flair for abhinaya, she elaborated upon various episodes asking Rama why there were so many contradictions in his avatara as Ram and as Krishna?  At times, the music was loud with the sollus recitation by Tanjore Kesavan accompanied on mridangam by Lalgudi Ganesh. Sudha Raghuraman (vocals) with Raghuraman on flute gave excellent support. Despite the avoirdupois, Pratibha performed with zest, communicating with ease through her eloquent abhinaya.  
  

  
The finale was Odissi by Ramli Ibrahim and January Low. Disciple of late Deba Prasad Das, Ramli has carved a niche for himself for his exquisite Odissi, imaginative presentation and maintaining perfect figure as a male dancer at the age 52. He has impressive stage presence. With the use of sabdaswarapat, like the kavits in Kathak and Kavutvams in Bharatanatyam, the Sanskrit shlokas and the typical style of Deba Prasad Das, his dance stands out from 'the run of the mill dance.' His disciple January Low has beautiful features and exquisite figure for dance. Their Mangala shloka in a duet had quick glimpses of iconic figures of Indian Gods and Goddesses and their dance in unison was thoroughly professional, quick silver and left indelible impression. 

In Savari pallavi, Ramli explored in a duet with January Low, the initiator and the disciple's role successfully. Trying to imitate the serpentine movements of Savari, the tribal woman, as a disciple to master the movements Ramli followed around her and both danced together giving an impression of female and male energy. In the final sequence, Ramli fell on the floor and Savari rode over him, resonating the 'viparita rati'  nuances in which the woman rides over the man. With effective lighting by Shiva Natarajah and recorded music (which at some moments looked also unfortunately discordant) the duo received a thundering applause. Ramli lived up to his reputation as a dancer of exceptional merit along with his disciple January Low who is of Chinese origin, born in Kuala Lumpur and from the age of 9, has been studying with Ramli, and now partners him.  
  

Dr. Sunil Kothari was Professor of Dance at the Rabindra Bharati University at Calcutta and the first to occupy the Uday Shankar Chair. A dance writer, roving critic, research scholar and author of many books, he is the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Padma Shri.