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Refreshing Odissi in solo and group format
- Manjari Sinha

January 5, 2023

It is rare to find a different approach to Indian classical dance performance. Very few artistes dare deviate from their routine conventional pattern. Two such Odissi performances held recently in the capital attracted audiences from this viewpoint. One was a solo Odissi performance by Molina Singh presented by Shobha Deepak Singh on behalf of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra in association with the Dancing Deer, at the Kamani auditorium, and the other one was 'Sutra: The Tales That Never End' by Vinod Kevin Bachan, presented by Utsav, Ranjana's Odissi Dance Academy at the Stein auditorium of India Habitat Centre, Delhi.

Born to a professional Manipuri dance couple, Molina was obviously initiated into Manipuri at the tender age of just three; but as she shared with this critic, it felt too slow and devotional a dance style for young Molina in her early years. She applied for a scholarship at the Kathak Kendra, the National Institute of Kathak in Delhi, and got selected. While training in Kathak, her thirst for widening her knowledge of arts took her to art exhibitions, libraries and to the theatre world's legendary Ibrahim Alkazi, who groomed her in theatrical arts.

Molina Singh
Molina Singh (Photo: One Frame Story)

Molina would spend the day at the Kathak Kendra and evenings at the LTG for training in theatre. Here she met Shobha, who was also training under the same Guru. As an experienced arbiter of talents, Shobha picked up Molina for the lead roles of Sita, Radha and Meera in SBKK's productions. For the past three years, Molina has been training in Odissi under Guru Lingaraj Pradhan in the stylistic tradition of Guru Deba Prasad, and here she was with her debut solo performance in Odissi on her fifty-third birthday.

Molina expressed her heartfelt gratitude to Shobha Deepak Singh, Director SBKK, for this precious gift of presenting her solo Odissi performance and also thanked Dr Sonal Mansingh for presiding over the function. Molina presented four distinct sequences of Odissi with absolute involvement. Opening with Adi Shankaracharya's Shivashtakam, as Mangalacharan set to a combination of ragas and talas eulogizing Shiva, choreographed by Lingaraj Pradhan, she further established her credentials in the technical aspect through Rageshree Pallavi composed by Guru Ramhari Das and choreographed by Guru Gangadhar Pradhan.

A dancer with Molina's sensibility and emotive involvement was bound to make an impression during the demanding abhinaya on "Kuru Yadunandana..." the last and most passionate Ashtapadi from Jayadeva's Geeta Govinda. No wonder her subtle abhinaya on this piece sung and composed in raga Bhathiyar by Bijay Kumar Jena and choreographed by Molina with her Guru Lingaraj Pradhan was the moment of aesthetic delight, the rasa-anubhuti. She concluded with Moksha based on 'Pancha-Bhuta Gayatri Mantra', where the five elements earth, water, fire, air and space were brought alive through music on sitar, flute, violin, mardal and manjeera played by Prakash Chandra Mohapatra, Srinibas Satpathy, Ramesh Chandra Das, Satchidananda Das and Lingaraj Pradhan respectively.

Utsav, Educational and Cultural Society founded by Odissi Guru Ranjana Gauhar presented 'Sutra: the Tales That Never End' showcasing Vinod Kevin Bachan, her talented disciple from Trinidad and Tobago, who has recently been awarded the SNA Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar.

Vinod Kevin Bachan stepped into the world of Odissi dance at Nrityanjali Theatre in Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies, as a child. He travelled to Odisha to study this art and got initiated into the Deba Prasad Das style at Bhubaneswar before joining Guru Ranjana Gauhar in Delhi. A former scholarship holder of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), he is an empanelled artist of the ICCR and the All India Dancer's Association.

Vinod Kevin Bachan and group
Vinod Kevin Bachan and group (Photo: Sanjit Debroy)

The sizable attendance of rasikas at the Stein auditorium this evening spoke of both the enthusiasm and the expectations from 'Sutra' that comprised two choreographies 'Rasa Rang' and 'Bhoomi-Suta', choreographed and performed by Vinod under the guidance of his Guru. Based on an Odia song, 'Rasa-Rang' was a colourful dance sequence about the love play between Radha-Krishna and the Gopis.

It opened with the Krishna Vandana recited as a Sanskrit poem first and then followed by music and the emotive bhava-abhinaya where the use of khol especially attracted the ukkutas. Krishna plays his mesmerizing flute and the enchanted Gopis dance depicting the flora-fauna and the leaps of deer, peacocks et al. Vinod would play the flute while enacting Krishna and would also become the devoted Bhakta alternately, dancing to the song "Radha sang natavara nache..." interspersed with kavittas and a 'Sawal-Jawab' sequence between melody and rhythm. The palanquin sequence on the Bengali keertan and the showering of flower petals by the Gopis on the Jugal-Jodi of Radha-Krishna reached 'Rasa Rang' to its climax.

Vinod Kevin Bachan
Vinod Kevin Bachan (Photo: Sanjit Debroy)

'Bhumi-Suta' (the daughter of the earth) was the whole of Ramayan in a capsule woven around Sita's life. It was about her inner voice, her thoughts, her feelings and emotions and how she dealt with each and every situation she faced, ultimately taking shelter in her mother's loving womb with dignity. The music by Saroj Mohanti thoughtfully incorporated the Kirwani Pallavi for the nritta passages and the chaupais from Tulasidas's Ramcharit Manas for abhinaya sequences. It was a meaningful message for the weaker sex facing the same negative situations in present times too. Vinod excelled as a dancer-choreographer but for the desired perfection in chauka which was conspicuously missing.

Manjari Sinha
Manjari Sinha has an M.A. in Sanskrit and Music, and trained in vocal, tabla, sitar and Kathak dance. She has regular columns in national dailies as a music and dance critic.

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