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Is anybody concerned?
- Ileana Citaristi

May 4, 2018

It does not happen so frequently to leave a hall in a disturbed state of mind during a performance and when it happens a strong reason must exist. It happened to me few days ago, but before describing the circumstances, let me introduce the matter.

We are quite accustomed nowadays to see the makings and re-makings of dance items which, originally created for solo dancing, are being split into groups, duets, diagonal formations, alternate rendering, fused with other pieces and what not. I am not sure if this happens in other dance styles as well but in Odissi it seems to be the heaven for aspiring choreographers. Take one solo item, break it up, change it a little here and there according to whatever you remember or whatever you need and present it as group choreography. There is still a little bit of reserve in announcing the credits (original choreographer may be given credit in spite of all the distortions or alterations) but that's all. It seems everything is admissible and permitted.

As a direct student of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, whose compositions are the most frequently 'tampered' with, I know how meticulously he chose and justified each little movement and nuances in his compositions and how, sitting along with Bhubaneswar Misra, the musical score and the dance would grow together each enriching and complementing the other. Each 'pallavi' would be developed around an initial idea or motif and would result in a very distinctive unit woven around this initial aesthetic concept. Each pallavi composed by these two masters are like shining jewels, with an identity of their own and an everlasting appeal which endures the passage of time. But how to preserve their originality and authenticity? Is anybody actually concerned about this?

What actually made me leave the hall the other day was one of the major 'distortions' I have seen till day; one of the classical pallavis not only split into group (this would have been somehow tolerable) but transformed into a sort of thematic 'raas leela' presentation with Krishna, Radha and gopi playing around! Same steps, same music, and even Guruji's voice playing the pakhawaj in the recorded score! And announced as pallavi in raga Saveri, choreography by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra! Take a Picasso painting, draw few lines on it, add some colour here and there, and call it by... Picasso!

The question is: is there any limit which can be set for this kind of manipulation of original dance works? Is there any possibility to preserve their authenticity for the next generations? If things are left as they are, I am afraid very little of the original intentions of the creators will survive. In the West we have original choreographies of the 18th and 19th century documented and preserved in detail and reproduced each time with the maximum amount of research and faithfulness to the original version. Of course anybody is free to create new version of the same ballet, but nobody would dare to tamper with the classical ones preserved as immortal masterpieces!

I really and strongly feel that something has to be done quickly before it may be too late. Whatever documented versions the choreographers have left behind which may be in the possession of their heirs or institutions with which they have collaborated should be deposited and patented so that any distortion or misappropriation can be checked and challenged accordingly. It is high time that a proper set of rules related to copyright in dance choreographies and music for dance is set in place and regulated by agencies like Sangeet Natak Akademi or any other government agency set up for the purpose. Let dancers and legal aids get together and seriously work towards this end before we are left with the infinite variants stored in Google as the only reference point having totally lost the original ones!

Odissi dancer Dr.Ileana Citaristi is the director of Art Vision, Bhubaneswar.

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