University of Bedfordshire Theatre
25 August 2019
Reviewed by the Pulse Dance Club
Photos: Simon Richardson
The opportunity to see five odissi dancers perform on the same platform is enticing and fits neatly with the aims of Bedford based Ananda Arts. The show was part of their week-long summer school, so that the participants were a natural audience and also provided some of the performers of the evening. However, there were also local enthusiasts present, a growing pool that demonstrates that classical dance reaches well beyond race and ethnicity of its origins.
The first performer, Italian-born Elena Catalano, has a powerful and charismatic presence. She danced the 'Vandana' (invocation) to Goddess Sarawati, the veena- (lute) carrying figure whose body radiates a sapphire blue hue. The dancer conveyed the beauty and the form of the goddess with precision and grace. She transported her audience. The bhava (mood) may have been slightly misjudged (sringara dominating over bhakti), but that is a tiny point in an overall presentation which set a very high standard for the evening.
Mahina Khanum gave a very competent exposition of the nritta item 'Pallavi' in Raga Shankara Varnam. A popular and catchy item, one of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s earlier compositions, Mahina danced with gentleness and economy. She kept perfect form even in the last stanzas which are very fast and where the body lines can slip. Based in Paris, where classical Indian dance does not get any state support, Mahina does a commendable job of keeping odissi practice alive.
The Oriya song 'Leela Nidhi', which describes Radha pleading to Krishna to return her sari, could be tantalisingly Bollywood, had it not been choreographed by a master like Kelucharan Mahapatra. Tiyasha Dutta Pal does full justice, with her coy face-covering gesture, which renders the movement charming rather than cloying. The lachak (syncopation), is perfectly executed and we feel we are witnessing a village belle ‘with attitude’. It is a relaxed performance overall and the sense of ease is palpable even within the audience.
After the interval, Parvati Rajamani, Director of Ananda Arts performs a 'Shiva Stuti'. This item is self-choreographed to the melody sung by Manikuntala Bhaumik and recitation of the bols by the dancer herself. There is a monumental quality in Parvati, grounded yet light footed. She has gravity in expression and attack in rhythm. The episodes in Shiva’s life are described with clarity and conviction.
Shalakha Rai in comparison is reed-like in her bends and flows. She has a firm back, more bamboo in that it is strong but bends with the wind. Her performance is jaw dropping in its variety of movements and the control of every muscle. The dropping to her haunches and moving on toes as the snake charmer is a stand-out moment that will live with audiences for ever. 'Khela Lola', an odissi champu, is more unusual in the harsh words uttered by the Sakhi (companion): ‘...if you play with snakes, Radha, you are bound to be bitten, and if you lie on sharp swords, you will be wounded’. As an audience we are so engrossed with the dancer’s movements, we barely take in the words!
The concluding item is a satisfying group piece as four dancers break out into 'Hamsadwani Pallavi', each keeping their individuality but happy to surrender to the group – a moksha of sorts.
Sadly Madhavi Mudgal was unable to appear due to indisposition.