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Anweshanaa

Picture credit: Esplanade Singapore

On the 15th of July 2017, Esplanade proudly presented Anweshanaa, an Odissi dance recital by a classical Indian dance ensemble, Srjan. Srjan was founded in 1993 by the late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, one of the leading artistes behind the revival of Odissi. The institute’s mission is to impart the classical art form to new students each year, to maintain and allow the cultural tradition to thrive and flourish as well as to showcase new choreographies to the public. Srjan is now lead by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s son, Ratikant Mohapatra, the artistic director who is now responsible for the artistic direction of the neo- classical art form.

The night’s performance featured six dances, half choreographed by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, and the other half by Ratikant Mohapatra. Here is a breakdown of all the dances with my thoughts about them.

Ardhanarishwara

Ardhanarishwara is a composition by the 8th century philosopher Adi Guru Shankaracharya, where the dual image of the God and Goddess Shiva and Parvati are represented. It is a fusion of the contrary, dissimilar and irreconcilable of the male and female aspects.

This piece was a strong start to the show, and for me one of the best pieces of the night. There were two female dancers wearing silky lavender costumes, each respectively depicting the male and female aspects of Ardhanarishwara. There were many steps where the dancers’ arms and torsos intertwined and blended into each other. They really captured the essence and merging of the masculine and the feminine in graceful steps.

Yugmadhwanda Pallavi

Pallavi means ‘ an elaboration’. Indeed, this was an elaborate performance (no pun intended!).  It was a dazzling showcase of steps, with dramatic lighting which gave depth to the dance. There was wonderful use of the stage with formations in diagonals, to the side and the centre of the stage.

Jatayu Moksha

Jatayu Moksa is a segment taken from the ancient Indian epic, Ramayana about the prince Ram who is exiled to the forests. It depicts the section where Ravana the demon king entices Sita, Rama’s wife with a golden deer and later abducts her. Later Jatayu, a vulture, attempts to save Sita when Ravana carries her off in his flying chariot. Choreographed by Kelucharan Mohapatra, this dance is a classic of the Odissi repertoire.

This dance was a done by a soloist, Rajashri Praharaj. I had seen her perform this once in a smaller auditorium a few years ago. Her abhinaya, or expressions were wonderful. She depicted each character so realistically; be it the coy femininity of Sita, the evil triumph of Ravana or the frisky gait of a deer. I particularly liked the depiction of Jatayu, the vulture, the way he attacked Ravana, and how he writhed in pain when Ravana slashed his wings.

Though the performance was excellent, I recalled the last time Rajishri had performed this dance. The stage was closer to the audience and more intimate so we could really see the expressions for each character. Her costume was more vibrant last time as well.

Tarana

With half of the performance over, the performers changed their costumes from purple to a lovely blue and cream. This was a fusion, contemporary piece which was still grounded in classical steps. The dance displayed strength and fluidity and maintained high energy.

Vande Mataram

Vande Maataram is a song that represents a tribute to the Indian diaspora. This dance featured a lot of sculpturesque poses of peacocks, deers, flags and flowers; essentially things that are associated with India

Here is a clip of Vande Maataram which was performed at a different venue and date :

Hari Smarane

The music for this piece was by the melodious singer OS Arun. It was rhythmic and there was great coordination among the dancers. Unlike Yugmadhwana Pallavi there was not much variation in the steps and use of the stage, so I felt the choreography could have been more innovative for this dance.

Overall, it was a brilliant night with many enjoyable moments.

 

 

 

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Sara Baras, Voces Suite Flamenca (Flamenco Dance)

Trailer for Voces, Suite Flamenca

Last year I was fortunate to catch Sara Baras, one of the leading flamenco dancers in the world at the Esplanade, Singapore as a part of the da:ns festival 2016. 

Sara Baras has been dancing for over 30 years. She first learnt the dance from her mother, later picking up techniques from maestros like Ciro, Manolete, El Guito and Dania Gonzalez. She has set up the dance company Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras. An international performer, Baras has performed nearly 4000 times at some of the best theatres in the world. She has choreographed about 13 shows, and Voces, Suite Flamenca is one of them. In addition, Baras uses her dance to help many non profit organizations, some of which include Vincent Ferrer, Made in Green, Invest for Children 2007, UNICEF, Campaign for Human Rights and many others.

The two hour performance containing 11 items went by in an instant. I was spellbound by Baras’ strong stage presence, her intricate, rapid footwork and lightning fast spins and turns. As put by Alfonso Ussia, Baras “dances like a cloud, a storm, the dawn and dusk”. Accompanying her for some of the dances was José Serrano and about four dancers from the Corps de Ballet. Jose was equally excellent, his footwork was like a thunderstorm. Being a male dancer, he was a good complement to the more feminine dance steps of Baras. The troupe also enhanced the performance, nobody outshining anybody else.

The musicians which consisted of singers and guitarists added energy, colour and life to the dance, the voices were strong and powerful yet musical. They really brought a taste of Spanish culture to Singapore. I felt like I was transported to Spain for the two hours. The costumes were beautiful and were designed carefully to accentuate the dance. The flowy dresses created beautiful patterns when the dancers were executing the spins!

A must watch performance! Do catch it if Sara Baras comes to your town!

 

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Odissi dancer, Meera Das: ‘ Dance is Life’

I stumbled across this gem of a video a while back and I thought I’d share it with all of you. The video has been taken by Matei Georgescu, a Romanian professor from USH, a Romanian university. It features Meera Das, an eminent Odissi dancer, teacher and choreographer. She is the student of Guru Gangadhar Nayak and Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. She also has worked with Mrs Kumkum Mohanty, Mrs Sanjukta Panigrahi and Guru Gangadhar Pradha. Meera is the leader of the Gunjan Dance Academy in Cuttack where she trains students in Odissi.

The video is structured seamlessly, where dance items are interspersed with a question and answer session with both Matei and Meera Das.

The dances

  1. The first item is a pure dance number, features poses from the 3000 year old sculptures in Indian temples. Meera tries to bring the sculptures alive during the dance.
  2. The next item is ‘Bilahari Pallavi’, a pure dance number set to a lyrical musical scale called a raaga. It is a blend of hand gestures, footwork, the smiling and body movements.
  3. The final item is an abhinaya, or an expressive piece that tells a story. Meera performed ‘Sakhi He’, a poem from the Gita Govinda, composed by the 12th Century poet Jayadeva. It is about the divine love between Krishna and Radha.

The group dances were artfully choreographed, and executed well by Meera and her senior students. The abhinaya done by Meera herself was lyrical and expressive.I also liked the setting of the studio, where the dancers were dancing and during the interview. The  overall ambience was very lively and the videography was professionally done. I also liked the white and blue/red saris that Meera and her students wore.

The interview- takeaways

Apart from being a skilled dancer, Meera is a confident and wise speaker. I learnt a lot of life lessons from the interview which is why I liked it so much. Here are some the key takeaways I got from the video.

  • Enjoy every moment of your life, and try not to anticipate the future.
  • Everyone has their own innate, God given talent; it’s up to us to explore it and the richness of life
  • Do things from the heart, with truthfulness and passion
  • Have a learning, curious mind. You can learn from life and everybody you meet. Meera says that she grows by learning from her students. It helps to observe everybody in dance as you need to portray different characters
  • Parents should recognize the talents in their children from a young age and do their best to nurture them
  • It’s never too late to find your passion, and when you find your passion, time flies and all tiredness goes away
  • It’s important to work hard and have a balanced life. Meera is immensely dedicated to her art form and extremely disciplined. She spends 5 hours in the morning doing her yoga and exercises, spends the noon cooking and doing press related activities, lessons from 4:30 onwards and she sleeps at 11:30.
  • When people ask you things, speak from the heart and don’t fabricate anything. Don’t wear masks and think about what other people want to hear from you

I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did!

 

 

Odissi

Odissi Recital by Veshnu Narayanasamy

Flyer

Odissi performances are not too frequent in Singapore, especially by male dancers. It was a treat to watch Veshnu Narayanasamy’s performance last night.

Where: @ Bras Basah Complex, organised by Bhaskar Arts Academy and Nrityalaya
Where:  10th June 2017
Who:  Veshnu Tamizhvanan Narayanasamy is a Singaporean dancer, skilled in both Bharatnatyam and Odissi, and has a Masters in Dance degree from University of Auckland. He is a teacher and choreographer, also directing and producing his own shows internationally.

As Ajith Bhaskaran, the emcee, and an accomplished dancer himself mentioned, Odissi is a classical dance form from the state of Orissa India. It dates back to over 2,500 years ago but has seen a revival since the 1940s and 1950s by traditional dancers as well as great dance masters. They referred to ancient texts, temples (where figures of Gods, Goddesses, men, women and priests were sculpted and etched in dancing postures), as well as the Maharis (female temple dancers) and Gopituas (male dancers dressed as women) who practiced the Odissi style.  These different threads were woven into the fabric of the present day classical Odissi dance that we see today. The music for Odissi dance blends the classical with folk and indigenous music.

It was interesting to watch Veshnu Narayanasamy perform a blend of different styles of Odissi. Veshnu NarayanasamyHe has trained under Dr Chandrabhanu who embraces all three styles of the Odissi pioneers, namely Pankaj Charan Das, Debaprasad Das and Kelucharan Mahapatra. He has also learnt under Smt Sanjukta Panigrahi.

The balanced and varied repertoire performed had the following:

  1. Mangalacharan – the start of a traditional Odissi repertoire invoking the blessings of a God or Goddess. Veshnu’s Mangalacharan paid a tribute to Ganesha, the elephant head God, the son of Parvati and Shiva. Homage was paid to Mother Earth, the guru and the audience. The beginning piece set the right tone for the night, showing Veshnu as a graceful yet strong and energetic performer.
  2. Pallavi – a highly technical piece in Odissi that really showcases the dancer’s expertise in the complex rhythms that accompany it. Veshnu showed his technical mastery in his varied vocabulary of Odissi steps choreographed by Kelucharan Mohapatra. He used strong footwork, and sculpturesque poses that were charming and expressive, as the pace turned from the slow to moderately fast. The music was set to Rag Saveri and Ek Taal
  3. Saraswati Vandana – a composition in Rag Gongari, and choreographed by Guru Bijoy Kumar Senapati and Dr Chandrabanu. The tribute to Goddess Saraswati who blesses with knowledge, wisdom and success in the arts, was artfully done by Veshnu. Particularly interesting was his depiction of Saraswati’s different poses with the veena, her divine instrument.
  4. Gita Govinda’s 10th ashtapathi or poem – depicted Krishna’s yearning for Radha. Veshnu splendidly portrayed Radha’s sakhi or friend, Lalitha, who told her of Krishna’s yearning for Radha.  Most Indian classical dance performances show Radha’s pining for Krishna (symbolic of the human soul yearning for the divine). So it was interesting to see this refreshing depiction of Krishna seeking Radha’s company. Gita Govinda was composed in the 17th century by Jayadeva, and is still recited today in the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord Jagannatha temple in Puri. 
  5. Shiva’s cosmic dance which Veshnu dedicated to the late Dr Neela Sathyalingam was choreographed by Dr Chandrabanu. Ajith Bhaskaran, the emcee elaborated how Namashivaya explains the five elements of the cosmos that Shiva embodies (Na for earth, Ma for water, Shi for fire, Va for air, and Ya for ether). Veshnu performed a powerful, fierce and captivating depiction of Shiva. The different pieces showed the versality of Veshnu, whether in abhinaya, technique, pace (he excels in the slow, moderate as well as fast).

As a male dancer, Veshnu was able to switch gracefully and imperceptibly between a feminine role (as that of the sakhi in Gita Govind) and a masculine role ( as that of Shiva). Overall, an impressive and sturdy performance, that displayed strength, grace and dedication.