How different it has been for all of us who performed the evening of the 7th of April at Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalay in a program organized by Art Vision, Bhubaneswar, in remembrance of the 4th death anniversary of our guru Kelucharan Mohapatra! Six senior dancers getting together perhaps after a gap of about twenty years, from the time Guruji used to conduct his intensive workshops in the early eighties, performing items which belong to the history of Odissi dance, items which are very rare to be seen nowadays and which many of the young dance students present among the public had never seen!
After the projection of a one hour film on Guruji's life shot in 2002 by Mira Nair, the first item "Pada bande gana natha," a mangala charan composed by Guruji in 1955 as a prelude to the dance drama "Sakhi gopal" presented at the Industrial Trade Fair at Delhi, was danced by versatile Meera Das who belongs to the first batch of students of the Odissi Research Center, where Guruji taught since its inception in 1985.
The pallavi in raga Saveri, an other classic item of Odissi dance, was presented by Mukti Lata Pal, another dancer belonging to the first batch of the Odissi Research Center, who nowadays is devoting herself more to teaching than performing. This pallavi had been composed in 1967 in Kumkum Das's house at Cuttack, where Kelucharan, Bhubaneswar Mishra and the singer Rakhal Mohanty, used to gather for days together and work out the details and nuances of the compositions in perfect unison of mind and inspiration. Kelu Babu provided the rhythmic structure, Bhubaneswar Mishra the melodious tune woven around the 'tari jam' phrase and Rakhal Mohanty the vocal support.
Another dancer who does not perform anymore since many years but who has maintained intact the grace and elegance of Guruji’s style is Pranati Mohanty who presented "Hari riha mugda badu nikore" from the Geeta Govinda, composed by Guruji in 1964. It was refreshing to see her dance and remembering Guruji's classes in Cuttack in the early eighties, during the summer workshops when all the Oriya students would join in and Guruji would refine his compositions again and again and teach in detail, all the nuances of his distinctive style. How many of the Oriya dancers present during those years have left dancing either because of marriage or for having chosen another profession! And how frustrating it must have been for Guruji to lose so many of them, even the most talented ones, after having taught them with such dedication and care!
After Pranati, it was my turn to present the Oriya abhinaya "Patha chadide mu jibi fullo toli re Bonomali" which I learnt from Guruji in the early eighties. This was one of the preferred songs of Guruji, which he himself used to perform on stage quite often. The past experience of Kelu Babu in the rich milieu of the Ras Leela theatre, with its vast reservoir of dramatized songs replete with colourful facts and anecdotes from the Krishna’s epic, helped him throughout his life in the creation of exquisite pieces of abhinaya distinctive for their fresh and immediate appeal.
The pallavi, which followed in raga Behag was composed in 1988 during one of the summer workshops and it has elements of the mahari style of dancing in it. By that time, Guruji had started to be associated with the Odissi Research Center and research on gotipua and mahari traditional movements were in full swing. This pallavi was neatly presented by Nandini Gosal who started learning from Guruji in the eighties during the workshops, which he held at the Padatik Dance Center at Kolkata.
Another masterpiece of Guruji, "Dhira samire yanuma tire basati bane bono mali" was presented next by Itisree Dwibedi, a senior student who joined the Odissi classes under Kelu Babu at the Kala Vikash Kendra in the late seventies. This Geeta Govinda composition, dated 1966, is perhaps one of the most widely performed among the ashtapadis composed by him; replaced with beautiful Krishna's poses taken from the iconographic postures of the Oriya patachitra paintings, it gives scope to the dancer to swiftly shift between the role of a spirited sakhi and a dejected Krishna while trying all through to persuade Radha to go and meet her lover.
came with Mokshya, the last item of the Odissi repertoire, danced in group
by the young students of Art Vision, who were joined in the last sloka,
"Sarba mangala mangalye," by all the participants in a gesture of total
surrender at the feet of their Guru. With Guruji's wife, Laxmipriya, seated
there in the front row, Gurji's picture placed near the Jagannath idol
on stage and his voice and pakawaj playing present in all the recorded
music scores, the competent commentary offered by young Art Vision student
Saswat Joshi and veteran Odissi singer Sangeeta Gosain and the final tribute
offered by each of the dancers who, almost on the verge of tears, spoke
few words in remembrance of their guru, the evening turned out to be not
an ordinary one but one to be remembered by each of us for a long time