The Odissi Dance I Saw


DD Bharti (National TV channel for cultural items) is always known to telecast classy programs. One of the items I best like to watch is the direct live telecast of Indian classical dance festivals held in Khajuraho, Bhubaneswar and other places in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.

The dances are mostly Odissi with items of Kathak, Kuchipudi and Bharathnatyam on some days. The settings are beautiful with the programs held on open air stages with the famed temples in the background. The timing being 6 in the evening onwards is just perfect. The stage lighting is very aesthetic and efficient. The colour filters, the strobe, the dimmer –all work without a hitch and are no distraction from the presented performances. The background music artists are introduced by the emcee (MC) with spotlights trained on them in the dark. They carry on the rest of the time with a flash- light trained on the sheet containing the lyrics.

The audience is an interested, culturally aware, and well behaved one with a few foreign faces here and there.

The stages are wide enough to accommodate a number of artistes and the dance dramas are well choreographed with many young artists with slim figures undulating gracefully.

The only snag is when the organizers want to honor senior artistes by allowing them to perform on the stage. Arts like music, literature and painting appeal to the connoisseurs irrespective of the age and fitness of the artists. But a performing art like Indian classical dance is one where there ought to be an age limit. I know that artists as they age and mature acquire a great degree of knowledge, skill and depth in their art; but they forget that their presentation has to appeal to the audience. Their bodies may not be able to cope with different nuances of their art which is pre-eminently visual in nature. As a result most of the senior artists make their performances a long saga of Abhinayam (mime)  with hardly any footwork which any expressive face, say that of  an actor can project and emote.

With due apologies to senior dance artists, I must say that I am not asking them not to dance. But let them do it in privacy. While concert goers prefer to avail of season passes, the organizers should not cheat them by introducing a geriatric element and force them to watch.

The particular dance I witnessed (Of course I could have switched off the TV and saved myself from the torture. But then I would not have got this blogJ) was of Radha and Krishna. The lady artiste playing Radha was quite old. At least her body was. Her face had been heavily painted to cover the wrinkles (very obvious in close-ups). Dewlaps of loose flesh were hanging from her arms and they quivered with every movement of her arms distracting one totally from the dance. Her dance movements gesticulating full breasts were pathetic to say the least. Though Odissi is a dance of tribhangi with head, thorax and hips moving independently, the poor lady’s body was a single solid mass not registering any individual body movements or swayings (And this in Khajuraho which is known for wall carvings of shapely damsels).