Towards women empowerment
- Vijay Shanker, Mumbai

March 16, 2012

Several organisations in Mumbai were celebrating International Women's Day (March 8th) in different ways, social, educational and cultural too. Smitalay presented Odissi performance by accomplished dancer Jhelum Paranjape and her talented team of disciples. The highlight of the program was the jugalbandi of Odissi and Bharatanatyam. The program was held on March 9th at the new auditorium Veer Savarkar in Shivaji Park.

Strangely, the International Women's Day coincided with the festival of colours known as Holi which signifies that women too have the power and charisma to lead a colourful and prosperous life.

The performance commenced with the invocatory number in praise of Lord Jagannath known as Mangalacharan. I was surprised to see a handful of male dancers, walking the typical Odissi gait in the ‘pravesham’, maintaining the elegance along with the female dancers, a rare spectacle indeed. Odissi is heavily based on the lasya (feminine) style of dancing, so it is not easy for male dancers to be graceful, more so, if they are muscular. I am reminded of the Odissi male dancers from Orissa, namely Debasis and Manorajan Nayak, for their lasting impression on me, as their performance had elegance in abundance, which in fact is the main requisite for Odissi dancing.

The piece-de-resistance of the evening was the bhakti number featuring the poor devotee of Lord Vittal who is beaten and is refused entry into the temple premises and is thrown away in the river by the authorities. He later rests on the banks of the river and gazes at the temple. While sleeping, at midnight he suddenly starts sleep walking and is shocked to see the temple door open and at last he meets the Lord and the Lord embraces him. Being a senior performer, Jhelum was able to bring out the satvika element during the dramatisation of the episode, the pinnacle being the encounter, which practically brought tears to my eyes.

The Samudra Manthan episode was the most impressive number for its dramatic quality. The tussle between the devas and asuras for the elixir of immortality, the appearance of Lord Shiva and the seduction by Mohini were presented well with wonderful choreography by Jhelum and suitable music by Manoj Desai. The male dancers who were featured in this number were Ankur, Sanatan, Dilip, Sanjay, Swapnil and Colin and the female dancers who performed quite well were Dipali, Rupali, Ketaki, Deepa, Hemangi, Shivangi and Poornima.

One of the most interesting items of the evening was the depiction of Shankaracharya's Ardhanarishwara Swarupa, wherein Jhelum was Shiva and Sandhya Purecha was Parvati. The dancers combined both the styles of Odissi and Bharatanatyam to portray the concept of both Shiva and Shakti; in other words, the masculine and the feminine power was incorporated through varied movements and gestures. The audience was thrilled to see two brilliant dancers performing together. The program concluded with a brisk thillana. On the whole it was a grand program of both substance and structure.