Sutra Dance Theatre (SDT) is synonymous with odissi, but on Sept 27, the company gave a new spin to the dance form. Different from the odissi repertoire usually presented by SDT, Ganjam paid homage to the cultural region of southern Odisha in India. Ganjam is home ground for some of Odisha’s eminent medieval composers, poets and literary authors. Hundreds of folk dance and theatre genres, each accompanied by its own distinctive music, still thrive in this district. With this in mind, SDT artistic director Datuk Ramli Ibrahim commissioned Ganjam natives Guru Gajendra Panda (who was initially trained as a sakhipila or boy dancing as a girl) and Odiyan scholar and visual artist, Dr Dinanath Pathy, the production’s visual consultant, to create a new work. “This new odissi production stands for the spirit of unexplored beauty that should potentially inspire and constitute part of the present day odissi,” said Ramli. Ganjam, which premiered at Istana Budaya last week, was part of DiverseCity: Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival 2015 (KLIAF), a month-long festival of dance, tradition, music, comedy and literature, which ends on Oct 4.
Accompanied by musicians from Odisha, the programme started with the Mangala Charanam. As the dancers moved, you saw odissi’s intoxicating ability to etch sculptural shapes. Here you saw the tribhanga, meaning three parts break, consisting of three bends in the body – at the neck, waist and knee, creating an S-bend. In Sthai, both the chiselled forms of nayika and nayaka (heroine and hero) were explored while in Rama Bhajana, it brought out the devotional aspects of the performance. From where I was seated, the facial expressions were not clear so I couldn’t read the abhinaya of the performers. In the Pallavi or pure dance, we got to see the variations of odissi. Although the grace and sensuality of the genre was maintained, the added tribal, folksy element provided a welcome change. Several goddesses and their vehicles were depicted here via some nice lifts and partnering work, not ordinarily seen in classical Indian dances.
There were no soloists but 10-year-old Kirthana stole parts of the show with her talent. Having started odissi only two years ago under Sutra’s Kuala Selangor Outreach Programme, the little girl is a star in the making. As a group, the dancers blended collectively and had plenty of spring in their step although there were some obvious misalignments in the form in some dancers. The Pallavi juxtaposed earthy movements with abstract and figurative forms to arrive at a climax. In the finale, Yogini-Moksha, the yoginis drew their energy from the great yogi, Siva, who was seated in embrace with Mother Parvati, on their abode atop the Himalayas. Once energised, the dancers picked up the pace as they went through a multitude of emotions. The aesthetics and brisk dynamics was immensely pleasing as the SDT company members danced frenziedly towards liberation. In typical SDT manner, the ending was beautifully patterned to sum up the night. Ganjam injected new, raw energy and vocabulary into odissi and hopefully, we will get to see more such performances in future.
DiverseCity: Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival goes on till Oct 4. For more information on performances and to purchase tickets, browse: diversecity.my.