Set to do a repeat performance in New York some time later today, Ayona Bhaduri tells aparajit chakraborty that the shift from Bharatnatyam to Odissi was a difficult one
HAVING put in one performance in New York, Ayona Bhaduri will do a repeat some time later today in the Big Apple to promote Odissi in a programme presented by the Trinayan Dance Theatre. She trained in Bharatnatyam for seven and half years and then withched to Odissi, of which form she is one of the finest young exponents. She was introduced to Bharatnatayam under guru  Meena Mukherjee and then came under the tutelage of Bijayini Satpathy at Nrityagram in Bagalore.
Bhaduri was always keen on academics but her parents persuaded her to join Nrityagram and opt for dancing as a career. Now based in Kolkata, she worked with leading choreographer Sharmila Biswas as a senior repertory dancer and administrator at her institution, Odissi Vision & Movement Centre and is currently a soloist.
She has received repeated acclaim in major cities in India and abroad at dance festivals and some of her notable performances include the American Dance Festival, Jacob&’s Pillow Dance Festival, Spoleto USA Festival, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Central Park Summerstage, Skirball Cultural Center and Symphony Space, New York. She has performed at the Maximum India Festival hosted by the prestigious Kennedy Centre in Washington DC and has also travelled to Senegal, West Africa, Sri Lanka and South Korea to promote Odissi.
For her contribution to the art, Bhaduri has received a senior scholarship in Odissi from the Union ministry of culture, the Nalanda Nritya Nipuna Award 2010 and the Odissi Jyoti title in 2009.  Excerpts from an interview:
– What led you to opt for dancing as a career?
An article on Protima Bedi in a Sunday magazine introduced me to Nrityagram as a dance village. It intrigued me so much that when Nrityagram advertised in Kolkata calling dancers to audition for a six-year residential course, I decided to find out about this too-good-to-be-true school. So I auditioned and was selected two days later. I was always more keen on academics, though, and when I had to choose between studying architecture and dance, I would have promptly chosen the former, had it not been for my parents who persuaded me to join Nrityagram. So, much against my will I started my life as a dancer in Nrityagram. It was only after a few months of living in such an artistic ambience, practicing dance for eight-10 hours everyday and watching Bijayini Satpathy and Surupa Sen practice, teach and perform that I felt inspired enough to take up dance as a full-time career.
– You trained in Bharatanatyam before taking up Odissi as a preferred medium. What influenced this decision?
The lyricism and softness of Odissi appealed to me instantly over the dynamism and vibrancy of Bharatnatyam, which I had been practicing for seven and half years when I first saw Odissi.
– Was Odissi a difficult dance form to learn?
Yes, the shift from Bharatnatyam to Odissi was a difficult one. More so, because Odissi is danced continuously in a position where the upper body, being soft and fluid, is pushed through extensive isolated torso movements while the lower half of the body is strong and very grounded. So these two different energies are constantly juxtaposed and the beauty of Odissi lies in finding the fine balance, both physically and emotionally, of the two.
– Who has been the driving force in achieving perfection?
At different stages of my career, I have had different people inspiring me. At the initial stage, it was Meena Mukherjee who introduced me to the world of dance through Bharatnatayam. Her cheerful nature and continuous encouragement made dancing fun for me. Then, at Nrityagram, I was motivated by the dedication and perfection of Bijayini Satpathy, who taught me with utmost care and instilled in me the discipline necessary to become a professional dancer. Later, Sharmila Biswas, who was extremely generous in supporting me while also giving me the freedom to grow as an individual artist. And finally, Madhavi Mudgal, one of the finest gurus I have had the opportunity to watch practice, perform, teach and choreograph, whose depth of knowledge ignites in one and all the desire to excel and achieve perfection.
-How important has the role of your guru been in your journey as a dancer?
I have been inspired by different gurus at various stages and the role of each one has been crucial and instrumental in making me what I am today. I feel fortunate to have met and interacted, even if briefly, with such eminent gurus like Madhavi Mudgal, Leela Samson, Sharmila Biswas. But I have been most influenced by Bijayini Satpathy and Surupa Sen and from having spent my formative years as a dancer under them in such a place as Nrityagram. My dance is very much a reflection of that.
– After how many years would you say you’ve managed to master the nuances of the dance form?
Indian classical dance is so vast in its depth and content that I feel it takes a lifetime to even begin to understand the nuances. Because the classical dances integrate history, literature, poetry, architecture, sculpture, science and so much more. And as one matures in the art form, with every step one uncovers a new layer that makes one feel that what one was practicing and perfecting till now was only a small drop in a vast ocean of content. So after 15 years of practicing and performing Odissi, I realise that I have only just begun to learn its subtle nuances.
– From your first performance till your next, how much have you matured as an artiste?
The life of an artist is one of constant learning and self-discovery. The journey from the first performance till the next has been one of continuous perseverance, hardship, of dark, empty moments, again ecstatic moments, of sacrifices and many mistakes and each experience — both in dance and life — has informed my dance, evolving and maturing my art all along. For me, dance is a reflection of life the way I have experienced it and with each passing day something in my dance changes, evolves, as I mature with the enriching experiences of everyday life.
– Did you have any particular plan after you completed your training in Nrityagram?
I grew up as a dancer in Nrityagram, having received one of the best trainings in Odissi, in my opinion. And that, till today, is the foundation of my dance upon which I continue to stand unfaltering and grow as an artist. Much as I believe in the rigours of Nrityagram&’s training, I also think it is equally important for a thinking dancer to move out of the protective shelter of her guru to perceive dance individually. I stepped out to find my own dance. I wanted to work with another choreographer in another set up to further hone my aesthetics and sensibilities before I started working on my own.
– Do you feel the investment in classical dance is not as rewarding as it should be?
A career in classical dance is a difficult one, especially when it is constantly being compared with other career choices such as engineering, medicine, banking and so on, where one benefits largely because it provides financial security/stability, more material gains, a more comfortable lifestyle — all of which dancing can never desirably fulfill.
But the joy, the sense of completeness that dancing brings can never be bartered for anything else, no matter how good that may be. I think Indian classical dance requires maximum intelligence for its training, presentation and propagation, more than studying any other discipline and today I don’t regret my decision to invest so much of myself in this art form at all. Because dance integrates all — the body, mind and soul. Dance has made me the person I am today, and the journey till now has been truly rewarding.
Dancing is and will remain my one and only choice as a full time career and the money that comes with it, for me, is enough to sustain my aspirations as an artiste. I think one has to choose between convenience and passion. I can only say that I am fortunate enough to choose my passion over anything else while many talented people are not, as circumstances often compel them to choose otherwise. 
– Your challenges as a performer?
First and foremost is sustainability. A performer never has a fixed income, nor does she know when and how her next call for a performance will come and how much she will earn from it. And yet, she has to work very hard every day to keep fit, build stamina and rehearse for any possible upcoming show.
Next, generating funds for her creative work. Dancing is a lifetime investment where one has to repeatedly invest in costumes, jewellery, music — live or recorded — research work, publicity material (brochures, website, etc) and other paraphernalia that are indispensible to performing on stage.
Then there&’s the administrative aspect of dance which the performer has to singlehandedly take care of. This includes liaising with performance organisers and festival curators for promoting her work, doing publicity for her shows, managing accounts, travel plans, accommodation plans, relevant paperwork, etc, all of which lead to the success of the final performance.
There is also the need to have one&’s own creative space to rehearse in, to choreograph, to teach, to explore.
– Apart from Odissi, what are your other passions?
Indian classical music. I find music complete in itself and dance incomplete without it. Music, its lyrical and melodic aspect in particular, interests and motivates me largely.
– Do you find any interest among the new generation to learn Odissi?
Yes, there is a lot of interest among the new generation. Again, the interest needs to be cultivated and nurtured, which I believe is the role of the teacher. Dance is not only about the physical form, it must also intellectually stimulate the mind, which the new generation seeks. And the teacher should be able to do both. Unfortunately in Odissi, we have so many teachers who are unable to teach beyond just the physicality of dance, unable to provide food for thought to the student. And that&’s when the student loses interest and Odissi loses out on talented dancers.
Again, not everyone learns dance to become a professional. In this age of globalisation and the heavy influence of Western culture, I feel the practice of Odissi or any other classical dance form helps our young people to not only appreciate India&’s rich cultural heritage but also stay connected to their roots. And the new generation is interested in our culture. It is left to us, the performers and teachers of Odissi or another style, to inspire them and pique their interest enough to study the art form.
– What are the future prospects for a budding Odissi dancer?
One has to first decide what one wants to become — a performer (soloist or repertory artist), a choreographer, a teacher or an arts administrator. I feel dancing can lead to all of these. One has to start with performing, of course, but by the time one is 30 years old one is mature enough to realise which aspect of dance interests her the most. Once decided, the preparation then begins for the choice one makes. But overall it remains a very personal journey.
– What suggestions do you have to popularise Odissi?
I feel the first step should be to include Odissi as a  compulsory component of our education system. This would help in not only creating Odissi dancers but also dance audiences who are well informed about the dance form.