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Studded with exemplary choreography

Tapati Chowdhurie |

The Dhauli Kalinga Mahotsav in Odisha — held at the foothills of Dhauli with the Peace Pagoda built atop it by the Japanese in 1972 — has been a great cultural event ever since its inception in 2003. The site of the festival had seen the remarkable life-changing Kalinga War fought by Ashoka the Great, which made him embrace non-violence, a doctrine preached by Gautama Buddha.

In today’s world of intense competition among nations to become powerful by amassing sophisticated war weapons, a quiet history of becoming a dominant soft power is gradually taking shape in Dhauli on the foothills of Dhauligiri.

The Mahotsav organised jointly by the department of tourism, Government of Odisha and Orissa Dance Academy gave performance space to other classical dance forms as well as some of the martial art forms of India.

In the face of intense in-house competition that exists among dance forms belonging to the same genre, Aruna Mohanty conceived Aikatana, which made the coming together of seven gurus and their groups possible in a harmonious ensemble. Scripted by Kedar Misra, Aikatana brought together well known groups in the Odissi firmament like Srjan, Art Vision, Nupur, Gunjan, Suravi, Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalay and Orissa Dance Academy and produced their epoch-making choreographic piece. The piece was based on sankhya or numbers, which signify oneness or Brahma. Each group was given a number on which they worked. For example, the guru who got number six worked on showcasing Sadaripu. For seven, the seven colours of the rainbow were chosen. Eight was represented Asta Shabhu, while nine was displayed evocatively through the nine emotions as delineated in the Natya Shastra. The groups merged with each other seamlessly — before one group could make their exit, another appeared and fused smoothly. Finally all the groups jointly performed Dasavatar to showcase the power of 10, in an exquisite choreographic piece that took one’s breath away.

It was a privilege to watch Vaibhav Arekar, who is one of the foremost Bharatanatyam practitioners and also a teacher, actor, educationist, choreographer and writer. His invocation to Nataraja in raga Malika and taal malika, described all the facets of Shiva. Creatively conceived sancharis were entertaining and they aroused a sense of wonder in the audience. The ground-breaking Alarippu blossomed in myriads of ways, where at times the group was in a circle while in others, they covered the whole stage.

This continued with his presentation of Ardhanareeswara, where everything was explained through effortless and subtle body language. Originality of thought was there all through. Postures of Shiva, Parvaty and the devotee were all simple but eloquent. Arekar and his group sailed through. As Mahisasura, he entered the stage with unbelievable leaps before the arrival of the Mahisasuramardini in group. What power, what control and command the slayer of Mahisasur displayed and the expression of the humbled demon had to be seen to be believed.

Classical dance is self-explanatory and has little use of props. However, Devatmayee, depicting the soul of the gods, was done in a contemporary approach and used props to highlight dramatic elements. It included elements of classical Manipuri dance, Thang Ta (the martial dance of Manipur) and Lai Haroaba — a traditional festival celebrated to please the gods through dancing and singing. It was the choreographic work of noted Manipuri dancer, Bimbavati Devi. Devatmayee delved into tradition using dramatic devises through the blending of indigenous Manipuri music, Natasankirtana and chants. The piece is basically an allegory of a woman’s journey through the meandering lanes and layers of self-realisation. The concept was by Bimbavati Devi and Srijan Chatterjee.

Devatmayee was the fruit of Chatterjee’s research. The script was also by him while the music was by N Tiken Singh. A set of well-trained dancers with Bimbavati Devi being one, performed with ease. For depicting Usha or dawn, pristine Manipuri dance was used.

Incorporating Pung Cholom and Kartal cholom movements is the typical style of Manipuri of Guru Bipin Singh. Much of that was seen in Bimbavati’s composition. The lilting music of Manipur’s traditional instrument Pena was used in the Lai Haroaba portion. The inclusion of Goddess’ Kamala, Annapurna, Kali and Ganga made the choreography visually spectacular.

Nadanta presented by Jonardhan Raj Urs from Bangalore was a mixed-media production, depicting the infinite dance of fire and ash. Visual and auditory designs created the cosmic dance of fire. The concept was by Madhu Nataraj. There was much pomp and show and the piece provided variety.

Tala Vadya Vichitra by Dhaneswar Swain and group captured the mood of rhythms. Percussion instruments of all kinds, which are indigenous to Odisha created a masterpiece. Master of rhythms, Swain’s group effortlessly executed soothing and melodious rhythms. Difficult musical phrases were deftly executed. He showed his brilliance in rhythm compositions.

Each of the three days displayed martial art forms of the country. On the first day, Belraj Soni and group of Mumbai gave the audience a glimpse of what Kalaripayattu of Kerala is all about.

However, the very best martial art performance was by Budhayan Binash Kumar Mishra and his group from Malkangiri in Odisha. Young and dynamic, Mishra is infused with a zeal for social service. He represented India at the Beijing Olympics and is well-versed in martial art forms as well as dance choreography. He is deeply involved in improving the quality of life of the children in Malkangiri, a tribal district of Odisha.

Mishra is also the initiator of the All Odisha Martial Arts Academy, a premier organisation dedicated to sports, arts, culture, education and social service. The group performed great feats and showed fighting and self-defence techniques as well as physical exercises coupled with mental discipline. It also helps in spiritual growth said the mentor.

The Dhauli Kalinga Mahotsav is a one-of-its-kind festival and prestigious awards are conferred every year. This time, Asim Basu, eminent painter and designer, a sensitive artist and filmmaker, was awarded the Ruchi Buddha Samman posthumously. The Guru Gangadhar Pradhan Smriti Samman was awarded to Leela Venkatraman and Dr Sunil Kothari for their scholarship. Sarat Kumar Sahoo and Dr Purna Patnaik are art connoisseurs who have popularised Odiya Art in the US. Both were also felicitated with the Guru Gangadhar Pradhan Smruti Samman.