Notes on performance: Srishti Dances of India's 'Lavanya: Graceful Expressions of the East' 
- Esha Bandyopadhya, CA 

January 6, 2005

In September 2004, I had the pleasure of watching a collaborative dance performance entitled Lavanya: Graceful Expressions of the East in Milipitas, California.  The performance was by Sreyashi Dey (Srishti Dances of India, Pittsburgh) and Manoranjan Pradhan (Orissa Dance Academy Bhubaneshwar) in the Odissi styles, and Poushali Chatterjee (Nandanik Manipuri Dance Academy, Calcutta) and her student Debanjana Roy in the Manipuri style.  The show exuded grace, strength, and creativity.

The dancers were well-rehearsed and very much at ease during their respective performances.  Indian classical dance is often a mere exhibition of strength, or even commercialized melodrama comparable to the “jatra” of yesteryears.  In contrast, Dey's performance was elegant and refined – reminding me of the senior disciples of late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.  The curves of her body clearly resembled the feminine sculptures on which Odissi is based, and she has carefully mastered the art of balancing strength and grace.  Guru Mohapatra once told me that even when a Hindu God feels enough anger to kill a demon, his face never becomes 'ugly'.  Dey clearly takes such advice to heart.  Even in a piece such as “Naba Durga,” in which she portrayed the ten-armed, three-eyed goddess killing the evil demon Mahishasura, Dey retained the elegance of the Mother Goddess without overemphasizing the actual act of killing.  Her femininity was a pleasant contrast to the masculinity and strength of Pradhan’s dance.  Pradhan is undoubtedly blessed with a high level of stamina, of which even many senior Odissi dancers would be envious.  I have seen Pradhan for over a decade now with a variety of different members of the Orissa Dance Academy, where he is currently a senior instructor.  Watching Lavanya, I felt that he had truly found a great dance partner in Dey – they were a strong match.  The two appear to share an unspoken understanding, which is crucial in duet compositions, and their performances together were undoubtedly well-rehearsed.

It is somewhat difficult for me to judge the Manipuri portion of the show.  However, Chatterjee exudes a sense of confidence and balance, which allowed her to captivate the audience even as she has barely entered the stage.  The grace in her every hand movement was remarkable, the fluidity of her movement was a delight, and her performance on the “pung” instrument, the traditional drum played in Manipuri, was an enchanting surprise.  I did feel Chatterjee’s student, Roy, appeared far less confident on stage and did not appear ready for a group performance with the other three dancers.  Though she showed great potential, the contrast between the teacher and student was obvious.  The show may have benefited by including only the three dancers.  

The collaborative nature of the program was clearly the product of immense effort on the part of all the dancers, especially Dey who led the project.  The music, which was specially composed and recorded for this show, was a delight to the ear and provided a degree of professionalism to the performance that I have never seen before.  Typically, dancers are so preoccupied with the choreography that they resort to using the music of one of the styles of dance rather than creating new music altogether.
The stage in Milpitas was rather small, and during pieces that included four people, it was sometimes difficult to maintain focus because the eye was prone to wandering.  Should this be the case in the future, I suggest that the performers maintain some way of holding poses while a different style is being exhibited, and not fuse steps and poses throughout an entire piece, but only at the end of the piece.  This way, the audience has the opportunity of seeing the individual characteristics of each style prior to seeing the two styles performed together.  All in all, the show was a tremendous effort and I am very happy to have seen it.  I look forward to seeing each of the dancers perform again in California. 

Esha Bandyopadhyay is a student of Srjan Odissi Nrutyabasa, the institution founded by late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, often considered the founding father of modern-day Odissi dance.  She studies Odissi in San Francisco, where she is a practicing attorney, under the guidance of Niharika Mohanty.  She previously returned to India yearly to study with Guru Mohapatra, and now continues her study with his daughter-in-law, Sujata Mohapatra.  She performs widely throughout California, and in India.