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Dance and Rhythm - Understanding the Elegant Dance of Odissi

If you have never seen an Odissi dance recital previously, it is time you seen one now to understand the grace, elegance and highly evolved techniques of dancing. Odissi is roughly 2000 years old, with the oldest evidences dating back to 2nd century BC, collected from the Jain caves of Udhaygiri.  The dance developed well under the patronage of King Kharavela. The dance has heavy influences by Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Mysticism. Salient Features of Odissi Odissi, to the untrained eyes, may look like a simple dance with intense footwork and monotony in hand gestures. However, the truth is that Odissi involves moving the head, torso and the hips independently in a single dance motion. At any given point of time, you can notice that the dancer is moving the head to one side, the torso to the other and the hip in the direction same as the head. This special feature is what distinguishes Odissi from every other Indian classical dance form. This movement is characteristic of Odissi and is called as tribhangi, tri being three and bhangi referring to ‘pose’. This tribhangi also gives the appearance of fluid motion of the dancer’s body. This requires extreme control and can look really unappealing if the not performed gracefully! The structural elements and techniques employed in the dance are based on Sage Bharata’s Natyashastra. The dance poses impart the dancer a rectangular/square stance, unlike the triangular stance in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. This again is unique to Odissi. The Konark temple in Puri has plenty of sculptures, which are similar to the present day Odissi dance poses. With great efforts, those poses have been revived and incorporated into the dance by some of the earlier maestros such as Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, and Guru Pankaj Charan Das. Different Styles of Odissi The ancient dance branched out into three different styles.
  • Mahari -- the temple dancers
  • Nartaki -- The royal court dancers
  • Gotipua -- Male dancers dressed as female, dancing for female roles
Presently, the Mahari and Gotipua tradition are almost dead. Dead in the sense, boys no longer want to dress like women and dance, while the temple dancers are a taboo. The nartaki tradition of course is no longer valid as there are no royal courts to perform. However, the old timers have revived the dance by incorporating the Gotipua repertoire, which involves all the elements of the dance, both spiritually and technically. Repertoire There is a fixed repertoire of the dance inspired from the Gotipua style of Odissi. This involves:
  • Mangalacharan -- Invocation of the Lord’s blessings. The piece simply involves showering the God/Goddess’s idol with flower, praying to the deity and welcoming all the audiences for the dance recital.
  • Abhinaya -- This is the piece exclusively for expressing various emotions through dance. Typically, Lord Krishna’s mischief is the subject in abhinaya recital, though not necessary.
  • Pallavi  -- This is a piece to highlight the talents of the dancer in the technical aspect of dances. This is also a part were the accompanist can elaborate on singing and rhythm.
  • Dance drama -- Odissi is mostly danced solo, but a dance drama gives opportunity for a group performance on any mythological account.
  • Moksha -- The recital concludes with Moksha (liberation of the soul from worldly affairs, also known as spiritual liberation or oneness of the soul with God). This piece is usually very spiritual and the dancer connects with the God through intense dancing. The entire recital concludes with some shloka.
The Mahari repertoire is far much longer and complex than this repertoire. Present Day Odissi Renowned Gurus of Odissi went to great lengths to mix the spirituality of Mahari style and the technique of the Gotipua style into one style, to give a new depth of character to the dance. They succeeded, as the post-independence era saw the dance wilting with no patrons and no beacon light holder to pass it on to the posterity. Nevertheless, the fact that the dance is counted as one among the 8 Indian classical dances is in itself a testimony to the dance’s appeal and sensuality. Learning and Career in Odissi Like any dance, Odissi too has intricate patterns and techniques to master, which require supple body. Hence, a child can be enrolled right from the age of 4 years. At the same time, the dance is less complex enough to be learnt at a later age too, though that does not translate to being simple or easy. Apart from the fact that, there are few bhangis or poses that requires flexing the body into odd poses, the dance is very graceful, highly spiritual, fluid and even sensual. There is still a lot more to be dug out from the temple sculptures and history to complete the puzzle of Odissi dance. Hence, a dancer after completion of the UG and PG degrees can pursue a PhD in the dance. Else, the dancer can choose to go as a teacher in institutes or start one’s own dance school. Related useful links: Odissi dance classes in India Odissi dance classes in Bangalore Odissi dance classes in Mumbai Odissi dance classes in Delhi Classical dance classes in India Further Reading


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kavita 27/04/2011

hi ............... i want to join in dance class near by my home ..............will u suggest me plz

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