Dance Review Print

Dancer Becomes the Dance

March 6, 2009 - Durham, NC:

Dance enthusiasts were blessed to witness a breath-taking performance by Sujatha Mohapatra, one of India's leading Odissi dancers, at the North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM). She was accompanied by a superlative live orchestra of professional musicians from India, consisting of vocalist Binod Panda, percussionist Ekalabya Muduli, flutist Jabahar Mishra, and violinist Nilendra Nath Patra. The presentation was a collaboration of the Indian Classical Music and Dance Society (ICMDS), Triangle Oriya Association, and Pani Dance Academy.

Odissi is one of seven classical styles of dance that exist in India today. It originates from the East Indian state of Orissa. It is a highly lyrical dance style, with codified body movements which include torso movements unique to Odissi, hand gestures, and facial expressions. Its grace and fluidity mark the hallmarks of the style and bring to life the awe-inspiring sculptures that are carved in the ancient temples of Orissa. Dance was considered a mode of worship, and the temples became the seat of devotion. Odissi is a judicious combination of grace, sculpturesque poses, spirituality, and mellifluous music. Its distinct features are (a) Tribhangi– poses formed by three “bends” in the body – and (b) the Chauka – a square-like stance with the feet and hands. Pure and emotive dance are learned and mastered over many years of arduous training and discipline. As Sujatha put it succinctly, “Learning Odissi requires dedication, discipline, and determination.” The enchanting costumes of vibrant colors and rich textures, coupled with ornate jewelry and elaborate facial make-up, provide a captivating visual spectacle all its own.

Sujatha is not only an exquisite dancer in her own right, but she is also the daughter-in-law of one of India's legendary figures in the field of Odissi, Kelucharan Mohapatra. His name is synonymous with the East Indian classical dance style, and he was responsible for carving a niche for Odissi in the annals of classical dance in India and the world over: he brought the ancient dance style from obscurity to fame and gave it the prominence it now enjoys all over the globe. He was fondly referred to as "Kelu Babu," which means an elderly, respected gentleman; as such, he was a “father figure” to all of his students. He was a dancer and choreographer par excellence who moved audiences to tears with his soulful performances.

Sujatha has at least eighteen years of rigorous training behind her under the astute guidance of Kelucharan Mohapatra. Her dance is an epitome of the master's stylistic techniques and reflects perfection and fluidity that is nothing short of flawless and pristine. Her dance is poetry in motion, and the years of work and devotion to her art come across effortlessly in her performances.

She commenced her recital with an invocation number called "Mangalacharan." It provided an auspicious beginning to a performance by invoking the blessings of the presiding deity, Lord Jagannath (one of the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses enshrined in Orissa). Salutation was made to the Gods, the “Guru” or “teacher,” and the audience. She then went on to present a "Pallavi." This is a purely technical dance in Odissi. It literally means “blossoming.” It started with slow music and dance and built up to a crescendo by the end. Sujatha's command over her dance was evident, as the most challenging of movements flowed easily from one to the other. The third number was titled "Aahe neela Saila," a pure expressional piece. Sujatha portrayed a seamless combination of body movements, hand gestures, and facial expressions to depict a devotee who longs to get a glimpse of the Lord within the temple. A myriad of fleeting emotions were brought out by Sujatha with her intense feeling and thorough grasp of the medium. The featured item of the program was a number on “Rain” from the immortal works of one of India's eminent poets, Kalidasa. Sujatha depicted the wonders of nature with aplomb and endeared herself to one and all with her inimitable portrayals of animals and birds in the backdrop of the monsoon rains. The final piece was a "Tarana." This is normally presented at the end of a concert as a finale. This adaptation from another Indian classical dance style known as "Kathak" was executed in the Odissi style with complex choreography and artistic dexterity.

The live musicians were the backbone for the program, providing perfectly rehearsed, soulful music that enhanced the dancer’s presentation and transported the audience into another world of aesthetic delight. Needless to say, it was a scintillating performance never to be missed. It left a lasting impression on the minds of the audience members and continued to linger long after the show was over.

*We are pleased to welcome Jayanthi Balachandran to CVNC. For a brief bio, see About Us.