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).


20 thoughts on “The Odissi Dance I Saw

    • Thank you Geeths, I do appreciate your suggestion about the light colored lettering. But the site was designed by my grandson-in-law. I have asked him to make some time to change the font to black.

  1. Seetharam says:

    I agree with you whole heartedly. You are not cynical; you are jut calling a spade a spade.
    Vimala, I wish your article was easy to read. I m not talking of the content but the letters in light blue can hardly be seen for
    comfortable reading. Why not just have black bold letters ?

    • Thank you Seetharam. As I have already mentioned I have asked my grandson-in-law , the designer of the site to change the blue color to black. Since the blogs are read on different contraptions, a dark lettering certainly helps the readers.

  2. Linda says:

    We’re talking about aging, right? So I can agree that a dark font, while less elegant, would be more pleasing.
    As for the dance in Hawai’i – fortunately the more fulsome ladies who dance hula tend to be also more rascally, and their dances comment on life more pithily than the pretty young things. But you seldom see them in elegant shows – more likely at a party, and not in costume but guests coaxed onto the stage. Pithy is good -like your comments, Vimala. Of course you are older than me – by two days – so you have earned it.

  3. Vimala,
    I could not agree more. A couple of years ago Linda & I went to a dance concert featuring a Russian ballet star who was, in his youth, simply fantastic. At age 75+, however, while he still looked OK, he simply couldn’t move well, much less smoothly and enjoyably. Like your dancers, he simply mimed – actually sat in a chair for a lot of the performance! It was pathetic!! He – and others like him – should have retired gracefully.

  4. Irene Dhar Malik –I am sure the performance you watched must have been truly uninspiring to make you write this, but I have watched some truly moving performances by elderly dancers.

    Vimala Ramu
    Vimala Ramu You are right Irene. Even I have seen better ones. This is not a blanket criticism.

  5. Kanthi Narayanan- I agree with you Vimm you are not being cynical. I have seen some elderly Osissi dancers performing in some functions. I feel the same as you.

    Vimala Ramu- Thanks for endorsing my views Kanthi.

  6. Ponnu Poovaiah- Very true, I don’t want to name them but quite a few of our veteran dancers , in their seventies and eighties, cannot make the cut with the same verve and stamina that they had earlier. They should gracefully leave the way for their younger, more agile, counterparts.
    Vimala Ramu -Great hearing from you after a long time Pon. I am glad you approve of my criticism.

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