for the Odissi maestro in Malaysia
May 31, 2009
As I landed in Malaysia and watched the well designed four-day festival - Anjali: Homage to Odissi Guru Debaprasad Das - in its capital city of Kuala Lumpur and the island city of Penang, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that while the rest of the world is dominated by the Kelucharan Mohapatra style of Odissi - though it was Debaprasad and his disciple Indrani Rehman who introduced Odissi to the world through their continental tour - Malaysia has been the only exception where all the dancers belong to Debaprasad Das gharana, thanks to the celebrated Malaysian dancer-choreographer Ramli Ibrahim's association with Debaprasad nearly three decades ago. However, when the first ever international Odissi festival was hosted in Kuala Lumpur last year by Ramli's Sutra Dance Theatre, the Debaprasad Das style of Odissi was sadly and conspicuously missing!
Charan Ranbir (the flag-bearer of the Debaprasad style and recipient of
the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award from Government of India) who
has several disciples in this country was shocked at the raw deal that
the style was meted out in the Malaysian international Odissi festival
and it was his earnest desire to stage Anjali in this country as
a mark of respect to his late mentor. Thus, all of us came together - Kalpana
Dance Theatre and the Temple of Fine Art from Kuala Lumpur; Guru Ranbir's
Nrutyayana and Odissi danseuse Leena Mohanty's Bansi Bilas (both reputed
Odissi dance institutions from Bhubaneswar, India, in the Debaprasad Das
style) in putting up the four-day festival," explained Shangita whose 12
year old dancer-daughter is a disciple of Guru Ranbir.
featured 11 dancers from four countries - Australia, India, Malaysia and
Singapore - who worked together under Guru Ranbir's direction to present
choreographic compositions of three generations of the exponents of Debaprasad
style - late Guru Debaprasad, Guru Ranbir and Leena Mohanty, a disciple
of both the gurus. The dancers included the troupe leader Leena Mohanty,
her Mumbai based dancer-sister Leesa Mohanty, Guru Ranbir's daughter and
disciple Gayatri Ranbir (all from India); Geetha Shankaran-Lam, Sumathi
Chandra, Umesh Shetty, Parveen Nair, Nadina Krishnan and Nritta Ganeshi
Manoharan (all from Malaysia); Manjula Radha Krishnan (from Australia)
and Daisygarani Tamilselvam from Singapore. The Musicians that included
eminent (mardal) percussionist, rhythm composer and guru, Dhaneswar Swain,
were flown in from India to extend live music support for the performances
that was an added attraction for the audience.
an invocation to the Sun God that witnessed Leena Mohanty's distinct debut
as a choreographer, set the mood of each evening. The stunning visuals
replicating the blooming of the lotus petals, the seven white horses forming
Surya's chariot and the yogic postures of the Surya namaskar (salutation)
were a treat for the eyes. Similar was the pulsating presentation of Guru
Ranbir's composition Jaya Bhagavati Devi - depicting different facets
of the goddess Durga - that culminated with mokshya, the fast-paced
dance of ecstasy that marks the denouement of the Odissi repertoire. Extensive
use of the sabda-swara-pata - exclusive to Debaprasad style - was
the hallmark of the two presentations.
with the vigour of the mangalacharan (the auspicious beginning of
the recital) and mokshya numbers were the lyrical and intensely
emotive numbers of pure and expressional dance - Krishna Nata (the
dance of Krishna) and poet Jayadev's Geet Govind - both choreographed
by Guru Debaprasad; the rare Vajrakanti Pallavi, Govinda Damodara Stotra
(in praise of Lord Krishna) and Ardhanariswara depicting the masculine
and feminine aspects of Shiva and Parvati complementing each other - all
compositions of Guru Ranbir.
The light (MATIC and KR Studio), costume (Sumathi Chandra and Shangita Manoharan) and set designer (Am Ghooi Ket) deserve special mention for the magical mood that they could create on stage. The colours of the frequently changing costumes and the light convincingly conveyed the moods of the recitals. If the costume was predominantly white for Surya Upasana, it was red and black in Jaya Bhagavati Devi and yellow for Govinda Damodara Stotra. Even in the duet number of Ardhanariswara, while one dancer had the yellow saree-black blouse, the other had black saree-yellow blouse that indicated how minute details were taken care of to enhance the appeal of the show.
"O our revered
and beloved guru, we pray to you to lead us from the darkness of ignorance
to the light of knowledge" - as a Sanskrit sloka invoking this sentiment
marked the commencement and the culmination of the recital, Guru Debaprasad
must have smiled from heaven and blessed his devoted disciples who carefully
carry forward his legacy of traditional Odissi.
Shyamhari Chakra is an art critic based in Bhubaneswar. He's a correspondent for The Hindu.