Innovation in classical Indian dance, or any form of traditional dance for that matter, is no easy feat. But in the right hands, it can be extraordinary.
The hands in question are none other than dance legend Datuk Ramli Ibrahim and Rudrakshya Foundation artistic director Bichitrananda Swain, who joined forces to bring a new vision and reimagining of two renowned Odissi schools.
Referencing the works of two prominent gurus, Sankarabharanam by Kelucharan Mohapatra and Kolabati Pallavi's by Deba Prasad Das, Odissi on High presents a comparison of how these two styles would exist today, debunking the notion that tradition is stagnant.
Kelucharan and Deba Prasad were two of four Odissi gurus credited with reviving the almost-extinct dance in the 1940s and 1950s.
Performing the new Pallavi, pure dance in the Odissi repertoire, are Sutra dancers including Ramli himself, dancers from Sutra’s outreach programme and five male dances from the Rudrakshya Foundation in Bhubaneswar in India.
This production is a collaboration between Universiti Malaya’s Dance Department Cultural Centre and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Indian Cultural Centre.
Indian dance critic Leela Venkataraman, who gave a speech during the gala night, on Wednesday said the production features a strong and energetic approach that will take audiences on an adventure with its pure rhythm.
“In 1954, Odissi was totally unknown and the new form that you see today, was being taught of, envisaged and constructed by great gurus,” said Leela.
The segments in Odissi on High were created by younger gurus, Swain and Durga Charan Ranbir, who is injecting a touch of modernity whilst staying true to the essence of their schools.
After all, Swain learned from Odissi greats Gangadhar Pradhan and Kelucharan later on, while Ramli studied under Deba Prasad.
“Ramli’s teacher Deba Prasad taught Odissi with a certain earthy aspect,” said Leela.
“Kelucharan looked at Odissi with a sensuous, three-bent formula of the body which is represented in sculptures in the temples of Orissa.”
A week leading up to the performance, Ramli told Malay Mail that the dancers have to be technically superb to execute this production and the male dancers from Rudrakshya exceeded expectations.
The moment they appeared on stage, it was impossible not to be transfixed by their endurance and technical prowess.
Whether you are a faithful follower of Sutra’s works or someone who appreciates a bold vision of traditional dance, Odissi on High ticks all the boxes.
Catch Odissi on High tonight and tomorrow at Experimental Theater, Universiti Malaya, 8.30 pm. Tickets are priced at RM50, call 03-4021 1092 to purchase or visit sutrafoundation.org.my for details.
Odissi on High will tour Seremban, Ipoh, Penang and Kulim.