THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, FEBRUARY 15, 2018 13:30 IST
UPDATED: FEBRUARY 14, 2018 12:33 IS
Odissi group recital by Rudrakshya Foundation at Nishagandhi Dance Festival l Photo Credit: Hareesh N. Nampoothiri
Rudrakshya Foundation, led by Bichitrananda Swain, has mentored and molded male Odissi performers to move centre stage
Guru Bichitrananda Swain was beaming backstage. It was yet another moment of pride and satisfaction for this Odissi dancer and teacher as his students of Rudrakshya Foundation brought the house down with their performance at Nishagandhi Dance Festival in Thiruvananthapuram. The all-male dance group owned the stage with pure nritta and nritya, as they showcased some intelligently choreographed productions at the festival.
The adulation is not new for the guru and his disciples. Having performed across India and abroad, Rudrakshya has established its credentials as a reputed institution. And as for Bichitrananda, each stage is a validation of a decision he took 17 years ago. “I had fought with my guruji and walked out of Orissa Dance Academy. Eventually I opened Rudrakshya and I am proud of what it has become today,” says the veteran dancer.
As we sit through the rehearsals and the performance, one can’t but appreciate the amount of practice and discipline that have gone into the poise, grace, power and strength with which these dancers perform. In fact what makes Rudrakshya stand out is the focus on the purush ang or male form, Bichitrananda says. “I used to feel bad when female dancers were preferred to male performers. For instance, a woman would be playing Krishna even when there was a male dancer around!” he recalls. With no avenues to perform, many male dancers turned to teaching, even when they weren’t able to pass on enough knowledge, he observes.
When he started teaching and found many talented male dancers, he took it up as a mission to bring them to the forefront. So at Rudrakshya, he comes up with special productions for the male dancers. One example of such a production is ‘Chakravyuh’, a piece they presented at Nishagandhi. It narrated the story of the valiant prince Abhimanyu, who learnt the technique of breaking into the Chakravyuh, a military formation, at the battle of Kurukshetra, but could never get out of it. The production that highlighted the strength and vigour of the dancers had such fine moments that the crowd went into raptures. Bichitrananda explains, “One should understand that certain movements would only suit a female dancer because, obviously, a man’s body is different from a woman’s. I didn’t want the feminine movements to be forced upon male dancers. So, I made a dance discipline for the male dancers that was incorporated into the repertoire of Odissi. In fact, you would find the male and female dancers of Rudrakshya performing the same item in two different ways,” asserts the guru.
In the opening piece, a salutation to the sun god, he incorporated suryanamaskar or sun salutation from yoga. “If female dancers do it, I won’t incorporate those postures,” he points out. He also stresses that the pure steps of the dance form is never diluted. ‘Taal Tarang’, another production that was staged at Nishagandhi, was a celebration of rhythm, where they danced to the beats of several percussion instruments. There weren’t any lyrics; it was just about the harmony between the music and the dance, with the tribhanga posture (‘three body bend’) presented with perfection and finesse. Then there are athletic and acrobatic moves, which is part of the gotipua tradition of Odissi. “Even when we try to innovate, we try to retain the traditional elements,” he points out.
Minimalism holds the key as far as ornaments are concerned. No chunky or flashy neckpieces, bangles or arm bands, he says. “They wear simple, light ornaments. I ensure that what they wear should be easy on the eyes of the audience,” he adds.
Bichitrananda is indeed proud that his efforts to bring more male dancers into the limelight have borne fruit. More boys are coming forward to learn the dance form. “Not just in my institution, even other dance schools have many male dancers now. Quite unlike what it was when I had started as a dancer. I had always loved to dance, but my family was against it. So I could learn dance when I was only 18, that too without informing my family. They were in for a shock, but I knew this was what I wanted to do,” he remembers. The guidance came from his gurus Gangadhar Pradhan, Kelucharan Mohapatra and Sanjukta Panigrahi.
The students themselves were unanimous in their opinion that being a part of Rudrakshya has been a fulfilling experience. Jagyan Datta Pradhan, one of the dancers, tells us how the institution moulded him into a dancer. “I joined the institution only four years ago because my family didn’t want me to take up dance. Once I started the classes the institution took me into its fold. It is like a family, we train throughout the day, we cook and spend a lot of time together. And that camaraderie and understanding reflect in our performance,” says Jagyan, on behalf of the other dancers.
Other performers of the group were Dushasan Saha, Bichitra Behra, Santosh Ram, Sameer Kumar Panigrahi, Surendra Pradhan, Sanjeev Kumar Jena and Rashmi Ranjan Swain.