Sutra and Rudrakshya dancers, with Datuk Ramli Ibrahim (centre) in the upcoming Odissi On High. (Picture courtesy of Sutra Foundation)

DYNAMIC, exciting and technically challenging.

That's the fresh creative energy flowing into Sutra Foundation's Odissi On High, due to kick off its second season next week.

Played to rave reviews last year, Odissi On High is a collaboration with Odisha-based Rudrakshya Foundation.

Building on the work of odissi’s two pioneer gurus — the late Kelucharan Mahapatra and Debaprasad Das (of which Sutra belongs) — Guru Bichitrananda Swain and Guru Durga Charan Ranbir (with whom Sutra has previously collaborated) have created exciting repertoire, exploring and developing further on technique, composition and technical virtuosity.

For the Malaysian run, 12 from Sutra Dance Outreach Programme, along with the troupe's dancers will be on stage with five male dancers of Rudrakshya Foundation.

They include Sutra Foundation's chairman and artistic director Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, a cultural icon who is credited for establishing odissi as a widely appreciated dance form in Malaysia.

Others from the Sutra troupe include Tan Mei Mei, Geethika Sree and Harenthiran while those from Rudrakshya Foundation are Santosh Ram, Samir Kumar Panigrahi, Jagyandatta Pradhan, Bichitra Behera and Sanjeev Kumar Jena. Odissi on High will tour India in May.

Ramli is the main choreographer for Odissi on High. Rudrakshya Foundation's artistic director Guru Bichitrananda explains: "Together, Ramli Bhai and I worked on merging our individual styles so that they look like one. Ramli Bhai belongs to Guru Debaprasad Das style of odissi and I, to Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. So, we decided to come to a common point of agreement where my male students would incorporate Guru Debaprasad Das style, and his female students, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s style. The result is amazing!"

PASSION FOR DANCE

Guru Bichitrananda is himself an exceptional performer, and has performed around the world.

He has also made his mark as a teacher, having trained some of the leading odissi artistes of today, many of them male.

He says he did not come from a family steeped in dance in his village of Balipatna-Tikipada.

"No one ever encouraged me to learn dancing. Not even my father knew that I had begun training to be a dancer. With a lot of difficulty, I got a seat in the university, where I studied dance. Unfortunately, some of my teachers, seniors and peers discouraged me.

“But I did not give up. I was headstrong and had promised myself that I have to be a good dancer. My biggest inspiration has been Padma Vibhushan Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.

"I'm not sure if I'm successful yet or not, but when a poor or helpless boy comes to me for training, I tell him that he should only concentrate on performing, and not worry about the future; and that God will show him his path ahead.

"I try and help such students with whatever I can. They live with me; eat what I eat; and wear what I can possibly afford.

"I've gone through a lot of struggles and criticisms but I have never worried about what tomorrow holds. I have always lived in the present and never bothered about the future. I tell my students to do the same."

Over the years, odissi has emerged as one of the most popular classical dance forms in India.

"Yes, it is true that odissi is no longer in its pure form; it has been tampered with in various places by various people, whether in Odisha, Delhi or elsewhere.

“Every tradition undergoes changes as it evolves. Having said this, I have to admit that in the name of change, some people make disagreeable alterations to odissi. But there are others who make wonderful modifications."


Sutra Foundation will restage its Odissi On High in a collaboration with Odisha’s Guru Bichitrananda Swain. (Picture courtesy of Sutra Foundation)

WINNING COLLABORATION

Guru Bichitrananda is blown away by the virtuosity of Ramli and his dancers, whom he calls "brilliant". He commends their training under their own guru.

"The dancers do their jobs, and then study dance with their guru. They are all so dedicated to their art. It is so difficult to balance art with a job, but Sutra dancers do it so well.

"The dancers at Sutra Foundation learn together, eat and perform together under the watchful eyes of their guru. And, that is almost like a gurukul.

"Gurukul is where students share the same food, shelter and learning under the guidance of their guru. In this sense, the guru-disciple tradition does exist in Malaysia as well."

The male dancers of Rudrakshya Foundation has wowed many an audience.

"It is true that I have created many male dancers of this generation, but odissi has always been female-oriented. Although the gurus have mainly been males, they hardly prepared boys to be performers. Boys who studied dance eventually became gurus but not performers.

"I, on my part, made a modest attempt to bring boys to the stage and perform, and look as elegant as girls do on stage. Girls do have an advantage over boys on the stage.

"I make both my male and female students work hard on their physique and look smart on stage. However, I choreograph slightly different steps and body movements for the male dancers so that they look like men on stage, and not effeminate."

POETIC MOVEMENTS

He points out that each style of dance is unique in itself. Every style has its own movements and elegance.

"Odissi can be made contemporary but that has to be done within the framework of traditional odissi. I strongly believe odissi should look like odissi when performed.

"As far as purists are concerned, of course, they will object to anything that meddles with the traditional framework.

"Everybody welcomes innovation, but any damage to the essential character of any dance form obviously will not be tolerated by the audience, whether they are simple art lovers or traditionalists."

As for the continuing appeal of odissi the world over, Guru Bichitrananda says ultimately everything boils down to grace; and odissi, as a dance form, is extremely graceful. It is lyrical like poetry and inspiring like nature."

Odissi On High will showcase the new energy in odissi.

"The dancers are seasoned and exceptionally talented. Through our students, Ramli Bhai and I aim to give the audience a taste of fresh movements and improved steps, keeping the styles of two of Odissi's pioneering gurus — Kelucharan Mohapatra and Debaprasad Das — in perfect harmony.”

Odissi On High

When: April 10, 7pm (Gala); April 11-14, 8.30pm

Where: Pentas 1, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, KL

Admission: Gala at RM103/RM203; others at RM73/RM53

Call KLPaC’s box office at 03-7880 7999/03-4047 9000, email [email protected] or visit www.proticket.com.my.

Also call Sutra at 03-40211092 or email [email protected].

Seremban show:

When: April 17, 7.30pm

Where: Kompleks JKKN Negeri Sembilan, Auditorium D'Sury, Jalan Sg Ujong, Seremban

Call 012-695 9343.

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