Mukteswar Dance Festival 2010 
Text & pics: Arabinda Mahapatra, Bhubaneswar 

February 4, 2010 

The Tourism Department's (Govt. of Orissa) annual initiative in promoting Oriya culture, found expression in the Mukteswar Dance Festival. Considered an important event in the calendar of dance festivals of India, this annual classical program of three days duration is held against the profoundly aesthetic and sculpture filled Mukteswar temple, famous worldwide for its evocative dance poses so beautifully hewn in stone. Being nationally telecast all over India on DD Bharati, the illuminated façade of the Mukteswar temple brings home to a great many television viewers, the artistic representation of Odissi dance culture created in stone in timeless magnificence. A more appropriate, aesthetic and emotive backdrop to a classical dance festival is difficult to find. The Tourism Department’s annual effort is certainly praiseworthy. 

Held between 14th to 16th January 2010, this three day festival began daily with an invocation (Shiva vandana), since the Mukteswar temple is a Shiva temple. The Shiva vandana was in the form of choral singing; created by reputed Oriya music composers - Guru Ramahari Das, Shantanu Mahapatra and Lakshmikant Palit respectively. The compositions and singing were of a high quality and the distinctive touch given by each composer brought out the variety and melodic excellence of each composition. 

There were a total of nine dance performances in the festival, with a daily set-piece of a solo, a duet and a group performance. Of the three solo items presented in the festival, the dancing of Rajashri Praharaj (disciple of Guru Ratikant Mohapatra) showed skill, stamina and grace in performing the Shiva Stutee. The festival opened with the Shiva Stutee item; the salutations paid to the three entities, Bhubaneswaraya Namah (in honour of the hoary temple city of Bhubaneswar), Lingarajaya Namah (the famed Lingaraj temple of Bhubaneswar), and Mukteswaraya Namah (the sacred venue of the dance festival itself) - was a befitting way of starting the festival by emphasizing the sanctity and spirituality of the dance, the temple premises, and the ambience.  

Rajashri Praharaj
Sonali Mohapatra
In the second item "Sri Ramachandra krupalu bhajamana," Rajashri displayed good capability in abhinaya while depicting a variety of distinct characters in the "Sita bibaha" episode. The skill of the dancer matched the high quality of the choreography by Guru Ratikant Mohapatra and the pleasing music composition by Pradip Kumar Das. The soloist for the second day, Sonali Mohapatra also danced very well. Despite having a partial hearing handicap, Sonali executed both her items Shivastaka and an Oriya abhinaya piece "Mohane deli chahin" with finesse. The dancer showed great versatility; while the Shivastaka was performed with the vigour required for an item on Lord Shiva, the abhinaya piece was embellished by a softer tone of expression. Both the items were choreographed by her Guru Durga Charan Ranbir and the music was composed by Guru Ramahari Das. The third day’s solo item performed by Dipti Routray was a standard presentation of three items. While the quality of dancing was adequate, the expectations of the audience seemed to have been unfulfilled.  

The first day’s duet item was an outstanding performance by Saswati Garai and Ayona Bhaduri. The dancers showed good preparation as well as considerable talent in executing both the items Shiva Parvati Shabda and Meera Bhajan, which were choreographed very well by their Guru Sharmila Biswas. However, the tempo of the first item became sluggish; dance choreography needs to pay attention to this element to prevent even the slightest feeling of monotony. The second item, the familiar Meera Bhajan, connected well with the audience and received good applause. The music for the two pieces was by Guru Ramahari Das and Debashish Sarkar respectively.  

Saswati Garai and Ayona Bhaduri
Janhabi Behera and Biswajit Das
The second day’s duet by Meena Sahoo and Ipsita Behoora was an average performance which showed inadequate preparation and failed to do justice to the good and imaginative choreography of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra (Nachanti range Srihari) and Ratikant Mohapatra (Ganesh vandana). Both the dancers showed glimpses of a potential which was not tapped by adequate preparation. The third day's duet performed by Janhabi Behera and Biswajit Das, disciples of Guru Aruna Mohanty gave mixed results. The male dancer Biswajit clearly overshadowed his female counterpart by sharper movement, better coverage of the stage and an all-round polished performance. The items presented were Ragesri Pallavi and Chandana Charchita from Gita Govinda, both choreographed by Guru Aruna Mohanty with music composed by Guru Ramahari Das and Dr. Subash Pani respectively. 
Nirvana by Guru Naba Mishra and Abarta
The group dances on all three days were at a satisfactory level of performance. Mention however must be made of the second day’s choreography titled 'Nirvana' by Guru Naba Mishra and the Abarta Group. A lot of thought seemed to have been employed while choreographing this piece. The performances of Guru Gajendra Panda and the Tridhara group on the first day and Jhelum Paranjape and the Smitalay group on the final day did not live up to the considerable reputation enjoyed by these two senior dancers / choreographers. 

Throughout the festival which had live music in accompaniment, there were a number of memorable performances in music which gave excellent support to the dancers. Noteworthy among them were the performances by Guru Ramahari Das (vocal), Guru Dhaneswar Swain and Guru Ratikant Mohapatra (mardala) and Aviram Nanda (flute). However, the lighting and sound reproduction were of very poor quality and often marred the main performances. 

Arabinda Mahapatra is a career photo journalist. After an initial training with the Eastern Press Agency, he worked for five years on the staff of the major Oriya daily Dharitri. Since 2005 he has been working as a photo journalist for the Hindustan Times, The Sunday Indian and the English daily The Pioneer.  His photographs and news stories have covered all the major events, in the last decade, in Orissa and outlying areas of Eastern India.