Sujata Mohapatra in Sydney

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 Natraj Cultural Centre’s 55th Spirit of India concert was presented under the umbrella of the Government of India initiative, Confluence – Festival of India concerts continuing to be held in Australia through these coming months.

Aptly introduced by the Master of Ceremonies, Divya Sriram of Madhuram Dance Academy, as the doyen of Odissi dance, Sujata Mohapatra performed a solo Odissi repertoire with an ensemble of four musicians. On Pakhawaj Eklabya Muduli, on Violin Ram Chander Das, on Flute Soumya Ranjan Joshi. All three from India. The vocalist was from Australia, who was chosen to sing for the performance at short notice and did an exemplary job, Krishna Chandra Roy.

The stand out feature of Odissi form of dance is its ‘Tribhangi’, the S shaped three fold bending of head chest and pelvis which are distinct and unique mirroring the temple sculptures found in the regions around Bhuvaneshwar and Konark of India.

Sujata began the evening with Mangalacharan in praise of Lord Vishnu dancing to Raag Gujari Todi set to Thri taal.

This was followed by a ‘Nritta’ pure dance piece in a Bageshwari Pallavi, unfolding of the dance as if sculptures have come to life through musical rasa creating distinct moods interspersed with intricate rhythmic patterns expressed through footwork particular to this type of dance.

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the Guru of Sujata and that of Odissi dance itself, has created many pallavis for each of his dance students like an artist who plays with colours on his canvas.

Choreographed by this great master, the Bageshwari Pallavi set to taal Ek Tali, music composed by Padmashree Raghunath Panigrahi, the famous ‘Tha Jham Tha Thari Jham ..’ was a standout traditional and exhilarating piece to watch. The conversations between the Pakhawaj and the Dancer’s foot work in a sawal jawab in this Pallavi ranged across an interesting yet uncomplicated rhythmic exchange.

Sujata’s ability to maintain her perfect postures even whilst dancing to these fast rhythms in movement and footwork was unsurpassed.

The next item presented was ‘abhinaya’ or expression dominant. A visual and aural treat bringing to life the Oriya song ‘Kedachandha’, the recital comprised of the stories of naughty Little Krishna.

As Krishna defeats and finally conquers in body and mind, the body of Puthana, the Bull Dhenuka and the Bear Vakasura, Kalinga the Snake. Ending with Yashoda witnessing his Vishwaroopam when scolded for eating mud in his open mouth. These stories have been seen in many styles across various dance styles. Yet the choreography of Kelucharan Mohapatra was scintillating in the beautiful composition of Mishra Kaafi, composed by the well-known Odissi composer Bhubaneswar Mishra.

The evening’s recital continued with the exploration of love between Rama and Sita with a watchful Lakshmana. The recital progressed with amazing choreography again of that of Guru Kelucharan as the story progressed with Sita desiring the golden deer ultimately Ravana’s abduction of Sita and finishing with Jatayu Moksha.. as the singers sang ‘Thrahi !! Thrahi !!’, the ragamalika came to life in Ek Tali, composed by Bhubaneshwar Mishra. Unbeatable in every respect, the vision of Ravana, the brave broken winged Jatayu and the flying chariot of Ravana will stay in my mind’s eye for the manner in which it was conceived and presented.

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The recital concluded with Moksha or Awakening, a piece dedicated to the Goddess in Raga Bhairavi set to Ek Tali, another gem by Bhubaneshwar Mishra and Guru Kelucharan partnership was brought to life here in Sydney, oceans away from the birthplace of this exemplary artform.

Both Natraj Cultural Centre and Indian Consulate have to be congratulated for bringing these artists to our shore. Despite the fact that the event was poorly advertised and marketed, the audience of about 200 patrons, mainly australians, establish the fact that no matter where one comes from, if a body of work is excellent it can be a moving experience for many who have never been exposed to it.