Odissi on a new odyssey!  
- Ranjana Dave, Mumbai 
e-mail: ranjana_rocks@yahoo.co.in 
January 13, 2007 

The 3rd International Odissi Festival that was recently held in Bhubaneswar threw up some attention-grabbing points on the future of the dance form. One of the most important steps towards channelising these ideas and viewpoints was a seminar on 'Preparing Odissi for the 21st century audience.' Eminent scholars and dancers including Sunil Kothari, Madhavi Mudgal, Rohini Dandavate, Ratna Roy, Sukanya Mukherjee, Chitra Krishnamurti, Ramli Ibrahim and diplomat Subhakanta Behera came together to share their views on the subject. 

Each of the panelists had their own interesting take on the topic. So while Ramli Ibrahim wondered how items could transcend their usual boundary to make new statements, Chitra Krishnamurti vocalized the dilemma that many dancers face when she asked, "Where does one compromise?" 

Subhakanta Behera was of the opinion that dancers should choreograph according to audience likes, to a certain extent only, of course. But what is the limit, and who defines that limit, have always been ambiguous questions and will continue to be so.  

Also, what happens when an audience reacts adversely to attempts at innovation in the form? There was an incident at this very festival where the audience was up in arms against dancer Nandini Ghosal's choreography of a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. Here again, Ibrahim's pearls of wisdom on the 'horse of globalization,' new angles to old elements and whether a dancer is playing to the gallery by stepping out of the accepted framework of Odissi, were worth contemplating upon.  

The essence of their engaging dialogue was eloquently brought out by Madhavi Mudgal in a simple but poignant statement on preparing audiences for excellence.  

The dancers and researchers from the diaspora spoke about the hot-and-sweet saga of Indian classical dance across the seven seas. Ratna Roy elaborated on the hurdles she faced while making people in the USA understand that Odissi was 'classical' and not just 'ethnic.' She raised issues about the disparate funding given to US citizens to pursue Odissi as opposed to those who may want to pursue classical ballet. Rohini Dandavate presented some research findings based on her PhD study on the role of artists in building 'social capital' across global communities by analyzing and understanding the effects of artistic exchange.  

Sukanya Mukherjee lamented the absence of exposure to various scenes of daily life. It is so amazing when we realize that though the scene of a woman carrying a pitcher of water may mean nothing to us, we have absorbed so much of cultural knowledge by seeing that and knowing about its existence! And when we need to play a coy Radha bringing her pot of water home, this unconscious information is priceless! Explaining such a scene to children in the US who have never seen a woman in this act must be really quite difficult. 

Chitra Krishnamurti also made an important point on copyrighting choreography. There have been occasions when there is a lot of mud slinging that arises from similar choreography, not just in Odissi, but also in other dance forms. Furthermore, she pointed out how all dancers use portions of dance that may have been part of the original choreography of one of the masters of the yesteryears. She felt that they should have ideally been acknowledged for their contribution by choreographers.  

Dr. Sunil Kothari skillfully moderated the session and ensured that everyone made the most of it.  This seminar was an educative experience both for the distinguished panelists and for the enthusiastic junta. It literally 'brought home' the fact that Odissi, this ancient and sensuous form that dates back to the times of Kharavela has made its presence felt across the colourful globe and is now here to stay.  

Ranjana Dave learns Odissi, Hindustani classical music and the flute.  She contributes regularly to narthaki.com and is a budding journalist.