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Odissi performer enlivens ancient art

Kelucharan Mohapatra (1926-2004), one of the greatest of Odissi dancers of India once said, “Odissi is not a mere dance form to entertain people but to inspire and elevate. I do not actually dance but pray in compassion and spectators say that this form is dancing.”

This was the impression I carried home after attending the Odissi performance (called, ‘Moksha’) of Veshnu Narayanaswamy organised by Sri Vidyalaya Foundation at Maidment Theatre (the Mosgrove Studio) in Auckland on February 1.

Veshnu started the performance with ‘Mangalacharan,’ marking the entrance of the dancer to stage, offering salutations to the Almighty, Mother Earth, his guru and the audience.

‘Batu Nritya,’ a pure dance item, followed the invocatory number.

Impressive Trilogy

Odissi is known for its characteristic and statuesque ‘Tribhanga’ postures and movements, which was the highlight in ‘Pallavi,’ not only an exposition of dance but also of the accompanying music.

Set to Raga Saveri, Veshnu’s skill and competency in the Nritta element was brought to the fore through these pure dance items. His excellent footwork, timing and intrinsic combinations of jatis were a delight to watch.

Three well-choreographed items displayed the ‘Abhinaya’ or expressive aspect of the dance. The Sanskrit Sloka, ‘Yaakuntendu’ and an Oriya song were in praise of Saraswati, revered by Hindus as the Goddess of Learning, Knowledge and Arts.

Eight Steps

Veshnu performed with excellence ‘Ashtapathi’ (Eight Steps) an inseparable item of an Odissi recital, in the second part of the programme.

In the Ashtapathi ‘Malaya Sameere,’ 12th century composer Jayadeva described Lord Krishna’s anguish over separation from his lover Radha.

Veshnu conveyed this in an exquisite display of Abhinaya through graceful and languid movements, expressive eyes and gestures, transforming himself as the Lord and transporting the audience to Vrindavan.

He later performed Adi Shankara’s ‘Shiva Panchaksharam,’ set to vibrant and vigorous movements, lofty poses and intricate rhythmic patterns.

The recital concluded with ‘Moksha,’ symbolising nirvana, which in Odissi signifies total surrender of the dancer to God.

Dr Chandrabanu, an eminent dancer and choreographer was the Master of Ceremonies. He explained the history and elements of Odissi performance with a visual treat of the essence of each item.

Producers of this show did very well in selecting the right kind of theatre to demonstrate this sensual dance form.

Odissi is here to stay. Veshnu teaches Bharatha Natyam and Odissi from his studio in Auckland. Readers contact him at www.veshnudance.com; veshnu69@me.com; veshnu69_artiste@hotmail.com

Priya Srinivasan is a former Secretary of the New Zealand Carnatic Music Society. She is currently Programme Coordinator at Raskias New Zealand.

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