Odissi Music and Dance Seminar at Cuttack
- Nita Vidyarthi
e-mail: nitavidyarthi@gmail.com

February 27, 2014

An introspective seminar on Odissi music composition and choreography on Odissi dance was organised by Soor Mandir, by the upcoming Odissi dancer Jyotsna Sahoo at the Odissa Cricket Conference Hall, Barabati stadium, Cuttack. A panel of renowned scholars, dance and music gurus and critics offered their opinions on different aspects of the subject to a gathering of singers, dancers and the members of the press. Dr. Chittaranjan Mallya, renowned scholar and Secretary of Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi, as a moderator, initiated the discussion by pointing out the need to review the authenticity and the present day status of Odissi dance and music as it stands at the national scenario. He stressed  the necessity to give importance to the three ‘J’s, the ‘Jayantika’ guidelines for Odissi as formulated by the veteran scholars and famous gurus, Lord Jagannath and Janata (public) and the great responsibility that lies on the practitioners to execute them.

Veteran Odissi dancer and scholar Dr. Minati Misra, the first speaker, mentioned that the improvement of the dance which actually began in 1950 as a performing art, should be in focus   and offered to give her opinion at the end of the discussion. To singer Dr. Sangita Gosain, the need of traditional music in dance choreography and a good understanding between the composer and the choreographer, as well as the dancers is important, a point mentioned time and again by others. Professor of dance, Guru Nabakishore Misra, felt that in order to attract the public and popularize the dance form, it is of utmost importance to pay (and check) attention to the stage, light and sound design or else no matter how well the music and choreography is, the whole production gets spoilt. Knowledge of Odia literature is also required. Distinguished scholar Monoj Kumar Behara from Sambalpur pointed a reality that “Joto guru toto moth, toto  path” (the more number of gurus, the more the opinion ). He reminisced how such problems were resolved in the rehearsal sessions of lyricists, music composers with dancers Minati Misra, Guru Mayadhar Raut and others and the aesthetics of a performance be “thought in totality and not in isolation,” a point raised again and again. He also suggested that the outcome of this seminar be published in the form of a book.

To veteran vocalist Dr. A. Maheshwar Rao, the topic of discussion is vast and “we can’t specify what can be done and what cannot, as creative art cannot be generalized. In a choreographic process the mental vibration of the dancer, music composer and choreographer should be at par.” He cited the example of how Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and Pandit Bhubaneswar Mishra used to sit from midnight till four in the morning at the Annapurna Theatres in Cuttack undisturbed, in order to compose a dance production as for them, it was of utmost importance to understand the style and underlying nuances of the music composition and the songs, the language, the character if any the dancer was playing and for whom the performance is offered. This is definitely a vital point mostly absent in the present day productions. With examples of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s performances, Pandit Rao asserted that a successful production is where neither music nor dance gets priority. The dance direction and music direction should be at the same level no matter what the dance style is. For this, the gurus should leave their ego and be a “close appreciator of the subject and language.” To him, ‘monoranjan’ or entertainment is that which brings peace to the mind.

Sanskrit scholar Pt. Nityananda Mishra who had enriched innumerable dance productions with his prolific, comprehensive and eclectic texts and scripts, emphasized that, “According to Indian traditions (parampara), the main aim for a production is where neither music nor dance gets priority but it is the rasa that should and Bharata muni stressed on it. If the performance does not evolve emotions it is useless and like a dead body. ‘Brahmaswad’ and ‘Rasaswad’ are like siblings. Also every person is capable of appreciating emotions. The actor should totally be in character to transmit emotions to the viewer with his captivating abhinaya or performance to touch him and that is the soul of the kavya. One should pay great attention to the Indian tradition, Odissi or others.” Again the abhinaya of Radha immortalized by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra was cited.

Acclaimed music guru Professor Ramhari Das was also vocal about the preservation, refinement and cultivation of Odissi music and that the choreography and dance compositions should use the traditional music without stretching beyond to respect and preserve Odissi parampara and tradition keeping it in tact and safe. He stressed on the necessity to infuse aesthetics in the style of music (and its rendering) to impart soul and beauty to the songs and follow the Shastras to preserve its classicism. And every artist has this responsibility. He corroborated his statement through practical demonstrations. Though there are a number of experiments and confusion in  the classical field of music and dance, it is up to the artist to decide whether to be responsible to the tradition or not. 

The worthy son of a very worthy father and a guru now in his own right, Ratikant, the illustrious son of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, began by emphasizing that it is very important that an Odia first recognizes and know one’s identity. To him, the need for a choreographer to be an actor is greater than to have knowledge of music but the knowledge of stage design, lighting and use of props is of prime importance. Incidentally, it is not necessary that actual props be used. It is worth mentioning here that in a number of his productions, the dancers position and move themselves in an imaginative way to depict an “Om” or a chariot (as in his latest production ‘Geetamritam’) and to that effect the snake using the hands with Sharpashira mudra around Lord Shiva in ‘Ardhanariswara.’

Khirod Prasad Mohanty, trustee Kala Vikas Kendra Cuttack, recounted Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s Radha, spoke about the modern digital technology apart from supporting the opinion of others. Bijoy Mallya also spoke of the need to be aware of the Odia culture. Dr. Minati Misra, veteran dancer and former principal of Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, finally appreciated and supported the ideas of other speakers and mentioned the importance of presenting any performance in an interesting and unadulterated way. She stressed the need of exhaustive training in music or dance as nowadays most dancers lack ‘angashudhi,’the movements lacking perfection. Now there is running on stage, lack of aesthetics and dedication. She concluded by saying that “dance is spiritual activation of life. Specially Odissi is ethereal and causes spiritual consciousness.”

Jyotsna Sahoo should be lauded for organizing such an exhaustive and enriching seminar which time and again brought in the need of understanding the tradition, text, the music composer and the choreographer’s cognitive domain. The main outcome of the three hour discussion was to retain, remain and respect the Odisi parampara and use traditional music in traditional dance, extending its boundaries without crossing it and presenting this age-old art in an unadulterated, artistic form. Dr. Chittaranjan Mallya ably moderated the session apart from offering his insightful opinion.

Dr. Nita Vidyarthi is a critic of performing arts, specialising in dance, dance theatre and expressions and is a regular contributor to The Hindu, and the Statesman Kolkata in dance, vocal music and theatre. She is trained in Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Manipuri as well as vocal, semi-classical music and Rabindra Sangeet. A Science communicator, Ph.D. in Polymer Science, Commonwealth Scholar and a retired Professor of Chemistry, Nita devotes most of her time to dance and theatre writing.