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Bharat Prem Katha - A new curriculum by Sharmila Biswas

February 26, 2023

Building upon the three pillars of dance, process, practice and performance, Odissi dancer-choreographer Sharmila Biswas has devised a series of online classes to be taught over one year. She unveils her course, Bharat Prem Katha, and shares details about what went into it and how the curriculum emerged.

What is your main thought in creating this?
Searching for creativity in the two main aspects of dance - in the curriculum (the building blocks), and in creating dances (to communicate deeply). I enjoy both immensely and these have occupied a major part of my dancing life.

It is in two parts. Abhinaya - for all students of dance, and Dance Techniques - for Odissi dancers.

In Abhinaya I will teach eight short pieces about eight women from the epics. The eight women, Mandodari, Draupadi, Kunti, Satyabhama, Chitrangada, Shakuntala, Vasantasena, and Radha, who are from different backgrounds, are caught in eight unique situations. They will tell their love stories in their own ways. The choreographies are based on principles of Nayikabheda of Natyashastra and other texts which followed, epics and classics.

The other series of classes consists of five new choreographies based on Odissi technique - Suchana, Bhramari, Music in Footwork, Dashaprana and Pahapata. These are based on postures, gaits, movements, footwork and rhythms, all of which are enshrined in our texts. 

Sharmila Biswas Classroom
Sharmila Biswas Classroom

The lacuna the course addresses
Within our system of training, the opportunity for providing full time training to promising dancers from a young age is limited. By the time a dancer commits to taking up her art professionally, she is struggling with performance opportunities. Yet, for our dancers and the audience, the world is becoming bigger, demanding expansions in concept and execution. The result is ‘items’, new and old, taught and learnt hurriedly, without any in-depth knowledge.

To address this, I have solutions
Through these dances, which are very interesting pieces to perform, the students will get into the foundations - the Performing Art texts, Epics and Classics.
While a dancer is learning to portray a character, she also gains knowledge of the background. It is easier for a dancer to remember through muscle memory rather than by taking notes from books. This process will enhance their ability to create their own pieces.

Transforming knowledge into performance - some examples
We know the stories of the women. But what about her body language, mannerisms and how she would react to a situation? Nayikabheda forces you to analyse her nature, and develop personal angik abhinaya for every character.

The knowledge of literature, the original texts and various interpretations will give depth to the characters. Dance technique is a science and art. One needs to delve into the science first, and constantly, consistently go back to it again and again. In creating pure dance, a very special, abstract and fleeting sense of creativity is required. The five dances in the curriculum will address both, the science and art of Odissi.

Some thoughts…
I wish to demystify the manner in which a performance script is made. A good performance comes out of a process and not through any genius creative vision.

Do you plan to share these dance pieces with the audience?
Yes. Students from different styles, from many parts of the world will join these classes. Since it is a year-long project, I would like to create a festival especially dedicated to present the eight Nayikas and the 5 dances. I would be choosing the dancers from those who have successfully completed one/both the courses.

While teaching online, what had to be unlearnt and re-learnt?
I was forced to unlearn, like so many others, the fact that the teaching of dance has to be an intimately physical one. Once faced with the scenario that my students are not accessible to me physically, I had to think about how to make online teaching work. Through many experiments during which I started and rejected different methods, my students and I tried to find a good process. I feel that it has made us more organised and precise. We have our material saved in folders and subfolders in our laptops which is better than trying and failing to retain everything in the memory and in casual notes.

Offline, I correct my students physically, by showing, or moving their limbs the way I want. And they imitate, sometimes mindlessly. And forget fast.

While teaching online, I have learnt to give more specific and precise instructions, which they have to follow intensely and execute, without looking at others in the room.

When students record their own dance and check the results as a part of homework, they become more aware and self reliant.

The journey is a lonely one, but very effective, both in terms of time management and self-development.

Sharmila Biswas
Sharmila Biswas

For enrolment to this one-year online course from March 2023 to February 2024:

Mondays: Bharat Prem Katha. For dancers of all styles.
Thursdays: Odissi dances. For Odissi dancers only.
Time: All timings are given in IST.
4 - 5.30pm / 7 - 8.30pm. Choose any one.
Enquiry: / +91 9830020770

Sharmila Biswas
Odissi Vision & Movement Centre
256C, Prince Anwar Shah Road
Kolkata 700045

Institute: +91-33-24227597 / +91-90513 45386
Mobile: +91-98300 20770

Kathakali Jana
Kathakali Jana is administrative and events head at the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata. She spends most of her free time watching performances and works as a freelance dance writer and reviewer.

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