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How to ruin a dance performance

Published : Jul 4, 2017, 12:54 am IST
Updated : Jul 4, 2017, 12:54 am IST

This commitment to present Odissi and other performing arts of Odisha will hopefully put them on the cultural map of Delhi.

The mandir has been giving great support to the arts and culture of Odisha with a recently completed auditorium hosting regular performances and dance classes by a number of teachers.
 The mandir has been giving great support to the arts and culture of Odisha with a recently completed auditorium hosting regular performances and dance classes by a number of teachers.

I was quite delighted when I got the invitation to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Jagannath Mandir of Thyagraj Nagar to be held at the Thyagraj indoor stadium, New Delhi. The mandir has been giving great support to the arts and culture of Odisha with a recently completed auditorium hosting regular performances and dance classes by a number of teachers.

This commitment to present Odissi and other performing arts of Odisha will hopefully put them on the cultural map of Delhi.

The two-day celebration featured, on the first day, a production by Srijan from Bhubaneswar. Guru Ratikant Mohapatra presented a well-coordinated, entertaining repertoire by his company as well as performing his Jatayu Mokshya duet with Sujata Mohapatra.

After presentations of vibrant folk dance by Sri Rabiratan Sahoo’s Sambalpuri Dance Academy, a superb Gotipua Banda Nritya from the Aradhana Dance Academy led by Sri Chitrasena Swain and Sangeet Natak Akademi-awardee Guru Sadashiv Pradhan’s Mayurbhanj Chhau dance, Ratikant created a spectacular finale combining all four dance genres.

The programme was ably compèred by Sadha Srivastava and went off without a hitch, in spite of the preceding vocal recital beginning an hour late due to bad weather.

But the second night was another story altogether. I was avidly looking forward to the opening presentation by a contingent of Odissi dancers of Delhi, most of whom have been connected with the Jagannath Mandir as teachers and performers over the years. This was a unique coming together of the Odissi dance community, and I hope this is an effort that will continue.

The young compère introduced the opening dance as Shantakaram Mangalacharan and dancers came to the front of the stage, offered flowers and stood still with their hands in pranam as shlokas were sung. The idea of the dancers to begin with an invocation and a simple pushpanjali before beginning the dance presentation evoked laughter from the audience, wondering why the dancers didn’t dance.

The reason became clear when the next compère came to the stage and introduced the first item as Shantakaram Mangalacharan to be performed by Kavita Dwivedi, Jyoti Srivastava and Kasturi Pattnaik. At that, the audience understood the error on the part of the announcer, but the error had ruined the opening.

The trio had combined their different traditions of Odissi and performed ably, though it was a challenge to see the performance as feedback speakers, placed so close to centre, blocked the view.

The next item was introduced as Topkay, a traditional Odissi pure dance. This was new to me, and I was trying to guess what would be performed until I heard the music and recognised it as Sthai. The seven dancers, Rajnikant Mohanty, Prakash Kumar Mohanty, Binayak Panda, Atasi Mishra, Vani Madhav, Manoranjan Nayak, Rasheshwari Nayak were well coordinated, but the dance was uncomfortably truncated as it turned out they had been informed — as they were entering the stage — that their 40-minute presentation should be cut to 15 minutes as the programme started late, and the Odisha cine artists scheduled at 6:30 had to begin on time.

Again, after the programme, I heard from the musicians that they had arrived by 4 pm. for the sound check for their 5:30 show and by 5:30 they had not been able to get a sheet to sit on, let alone the microphones set up for a sound check. The organisers had not even organised a durrie and a sheet for the musicians and, if they wanted the dance performance to end by 6:30, it would have been wise to have had the courtesy and foresight to take care of the minimal logistics necessary to do so.

Meanwhile, the dancers who were waiting in costume at the nearby Jagannath Mandir from 4:30 pm, were also told that the programme would not start till 6 pm and, at 5:40, gave up waiting for transport and walked to the stadium.

On arrival, they were told to cut their programme so as not to hold up the cine artists presentation. Shankaravaranam Pallavi was presented by senior dancers Anita Babu and Chandana Raul with an abrupt ending after the Sthai and first Antara.

They could easily have composed a short version with all the elements of the pallavi if they had been given notice earlier that they had to abbreviate this classic composition. The planned traditional conclusion of every Odissi performance, Mokshya, had to be cut completely. After the abrupt ending, a compère came on stage and the only way we in the audience knew the Delhi Odissi dancers collaborative efforts were over was by seeing the musicians pack up.

No thank you, no felicitation, no flowers. This was not skipped the previous evening, even though many noticed that a junior television artist from Odisha was invited to give flowers to Guru Ratikant Mohapatra, who is far senior to him.

I make it a point to write on dance issues and not as a critic of my fellow artists, so when I don’t enjoy a performance I simply don’t write about it. However in this case, I did enjoy seeing the bits and pieces of the performance that managed to come through the mess created by those in charge of the evening.

 I feel the attitude of the organisers of this event (who are apparently not the same people who regularly organise performances at the temple) is an example of what happens when the classical dance and artists are not respected.

It seems clear that the first evening dance performance was technically smooth owing to the authoritative experience and control of all the production elements by Srijan director and choreographer, Ratikant Mohapatra.

Why was a competent professional compère hired for the first night and not for the second? If inexperienced compères have to be used, they must check the pronunciation of any unfamiliar terms and names in advance at the minimum and should definitely go over their scripts with artists so that they know the actual format of the presentation. The invocation to Jagannath  should not be introduced as a dance item just because of a sketchy script.

Why were the accompanying musicians not introduced by the compère? This is frankly insulting. Why the artists were not even acknowledged at the end of their performance, let alone felicitated?

I certainly appreciate the appeal and excitement for the local Odia community of seeing their popular cine artists, but if the organisers could only focus on meeting and welcoming the popular cine artists to the exclusion of having the stage set up for the preceding classical dance music accompanists or remembering to bring the classical dancers to the venue and specially forcing them to instantly amputate the programme they have taken time to work together to create, it would be better not to include them in such an event.

The dancers who performed were both professional and senior amateur artists, all of whom having dedicated many decades of their lives to this great classical dance.

I so wanted to see their presentation, was grateful for what they could share, despite the confusion, misinformation, mishandling and truncating of their performance. They are all the backbone of Odissi in Delhi.

Several do not find opportunities to perform in such a big event in Delhi, but share their art in smaller venues and with generations of students. We all owe them respect for their love, dedication and achievement in the field of Odissi, and I hope they are not daunted by this experience and will come together again and again in sharing this art that many do actually love.

Sharon Lowen is a respected exponent of Odissi, Manipuri and Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chau whose four-decade career in India was preceded by 17 years of modern dance and ballet in the US and an MA in dance from the University of Michigan. She can be  contacted at

Tags: odissi dancer, jagannath mandir, odia community