International Odissi Festival 2011: In Conversation with Pratap Das
Duration: 00:25:25; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 66.241; Saturation: 0.070; Lightness: 0.319; Volume: 0.104; Words per Minute: 146.457
Summary: The 4th International Odissi Dance Festival in 2011 was held from December 23 to 30, 2011, at Rabindra Mandap Bhubaneswar. The festival was preceded by an attempt to create a world record by having around 550 dancers perform together at Kalinga Stadium. It saw the participation of most major Odissi ensembles in Orissa and a few from outside the state. With performances for over twelve hours each day, the festival featured several hundred performers in solo, duet and group works over eight days. In its scale, the festival offered a bird's eye view of the landscape of contemporary Odissi and its ever-changing nature. It foregrounded new trends in choreography, music and costuming. The seminars during the festival sparked lively debates on issues and concerns in Odissi. One such concern, voiced repeatedly, questioned the definition of tradition within the space of the dance form and the limits it could be stretched to. This raised parallel questions about innovation and experimentation in Odissi - a debate that found itself mirrored in the performances during the festival.
Pratap Das is the chairperson of Indian Performing Arts Promotions, the US-based group that collaborated on the International Odissi Dance Festival with the Indian government. He talks about the humble beginnings of this festival in 2000, then bringing it to India in 2006. This is the second time the festival has been held in Bhubaneswar, and bringing an international festival here has also resulted in sorely needed improvements to performance spaces in Bhubaneswar. He also speaks of future plans of the festival, from making it to travel to other cities, and including a wider range of dancers while making provisions for less privileged dancers who want to pursue Odissi as a career.
Indian Performing Arts Promotions
Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya
reinvigorating local infrastructure
Pratap Das: You know, it was very surprising event that took place in 1996. Before, I was an Odissi fan, but not a hardcore Odissi fan. And, I was more into the vocal part. Not even Odissi, the modern songs. And, until, when Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra visited United States (of America) in 1996. He came and stayed in my house. And, I am a neighbour of Kelucharan Mohapatra from Cuttack. Our house is only fifty feet apart. But, still then we knew each other, but, I didn't have any devotion of Keluji and his creations and things like that . When he came and stayed in my house, I was completely, completely enchanted with Odissi repertoire and Odissi dance and things like that.
I started thinking, looking at American audience or the western audience are motivated. They are and how much they enjoy (Odissi). Then, a thought that came to me that, you know, this is the form where Orissa is getting its identity and Odissi is a form of dance that really represents the land and the soil of Orissa. And, that too, also, in many, many ways, it represents you know, the spiritual aspect of Lord Jagannath. And, I am a devotee of Lord Jagannath. Then, I thought that I should do it. Let's do a festival...my partner, who is Arun Das, who is no longer, was here until the last festival. He died in 2009.
We both sat together, along with Anu Biswal, we're the three people who really started this Festival; that, let's do a Festival. Believe me or not, in 2000, that is the first Indian Classical Dance Festival, ever held in United States, irrespective of style or anything. even Bharatanatyam never had one, Kuchipudi never had one, it's Odissi who hit the pot, the jackpot first. You know, that we would like to do it. In a very limited way, we started doing, you know, in 2000, with the help of ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations). And, it was a three-day festival, to start with, and we got some artists from India and also the local, United States and Canada. We had a good festival, you know, representing all styles. But, predominantly Kelucharan Mohapatra style. His students and his presence at the Festival was there and that was dedicated to Pankaj Charan Das, the first Festival.
Then, the first Festival, I think, the chairperson was Dr. Minati Mishra, because we had close access to Minati Mishra and we put the framework, how we are going to do it and there are some local people over there, you know, in Canada and United States who also brought in their ideas. Money is always a problem. Persons are not any problem because you can get any artist, you know, provided you have money. So, we did the first Festival and immediately, you know, it caught the attention of ICCR and that foreigners doing the Festival, you know, tha'ts the way it started. Then the three years passed, then 2006 came, and in 2006 we did the Festival also in Washington D.C. because, we knew the place, we knew the logistics...
Pratap Das: 2003, I am sorry. 2003, we did the second Festival. It was even larger than the first festival. More people came, more people were aware of this Festival. And...see, our Festival is different from other Festivals, you know. It is a full-fledged Festival. We have the dancers, the repertoire, you know, that is also classified into different categories. We take promising, established and senior. And we also divide them into international and national.
And try to give opportunity. The way it started, not that much, you know, of giving of opportunity to senior dancers or the established dancers, rather than common dancer or the dancer who has the potential, you know, to dance; to offer them the platform. To get an opportunity to dance, so that they can get a crack out of it, you know, try to move on from here on, that, you know, they can dance too. Or if they are not good dancers, people are going to tell that, "No, no, you have to practise more", or "You have to wait, you know, before you come to the stage". And our seminars, you know, also has workshops, lecture-demonstrations and seminars. You know, there are three parts of that thing.
And, we discuss, we take the scholars, we bring them from different universities, we get the Odissi critics from India, like Sunil Kothari or Leela Venkataraman and people of that stature. And, we bring them, try to give them a topic and in the evening, you know, in the afternoon, after lunch, that was a really tough time, you know; we used to do lecture-demonstrations. And in the ballet-halls, completely wooden, you know, floor. People used to struggle after lunch, you know, to do the lecture-demonstration. I laugh right now, you know, but I know what people were going through during that period of time. Then, in the evening, the performances would start.
What you see in this Festival, all my previous festivals, you know, that I do large festivals because I add number of days (sic). My only objective is that, you know, I should open this platform to a lot more people, rather than only the senior or the established. For senior and established, you know this festival is just a festival. But for the festival, for the first dance, you know a dancer who is dancing for the first time, this Festival means a whole lot (more). He or she can say that,'You know what, that was my first one. I started my journey.' And, with that, keeping that in mind, when I came back you know, after 2003, I had a meeting with ICCR. ICCR was our big partner. So, I had a meeting with ICCR giving them a project report that you know, how was your festival, you know, things of that nature.
I said that, "My Festival was great, you know," and they told me that, you know, for them, it was a nightmare. I said, "Why it was a nightmare?" Because everyone is coming to ICCR to get a free ticket to your Festival. So, we really don't know whom to give, and whom not to give. And in one year, they sent twenty-one people here. And they said that twenty-one people sending, you know, the second Festival, is not a joking matter, you know. We also regularly don't send that many people to a particular country which is not an ICCR programme, it is a sponsored programme. But, again, you know we don't send that kind of people and so could you please do me a favour? When you think of a next Festival, why don't you do it in Bhubaneswar?" And I said, "Why Bhubaneswar? We are an International Festival. We want to promote Odissi overseas, you know, not in our home-town." (Smiling)
There was a whole row and that is still one criticism against us right now, that 'Why do you do it in India?' I do it in India, because, for one thing - more people can participate and foreign people can; even though it is very difficult. It is a very expensive proposition to come and perform in my Festival, because the time, the ticket fares are almost double. To come to Bhuwaneswar and December last week is the most impossible month, you know, travel wise. Tickets are not available unless you plan. Or you know, it's holiday time, Christian people would like to be with their family, Christmas time. But, I only look at the college students. My participants, one time, they were college, school students. So, for them, this is the only break they can get and weather-wise also, Bhubaneswar is very pleasant in December. So, that's the reason we chose December. So, with the holidays, you know, only three-four holidays, rest of it is holidays for ten days. So we chose this. We chose this event at this period of time.
Other than that, you know, when I did...then, I agreed with ICCR. "Well, its a great idea, you know. We will do it in Bhubaneswar." I came to Bhubaneswar. It was completely...the government was completely excited. I met Subas Pani as the...who was the Chief Secretary of Government of Orissa, an Odissi scholar also, who got an award this time as a scholar in 2011; he was the Chief Secratary. I said, "I want to do the Festival. But, my only constraint is that you do not have the facility to do the festival. For the intrnational students, you know, dancers, who do not have...I know you have a good place, but the thing is, its not according to the western standards or international standard." He said that he will do it.
Then, he built the Utkal Mandap. It was built as a six thousand capacity amphitheatre and till now, it is the largest amphitheatre of the country to have six thousand people. That was built and that was delivered the day it was inaugurated. Can you believe? You know, they sat all the time and started the construction in the month of October. To deliver it in October and December twenty-sixth, okay? (Smiling) We had a heart attack; that you know, the place is not finished. They put the wooden floor on the day the programme started on twenty-sixth morning. And two hundred people sleeping over there on the sand, over there, the daily labourers. They were working twenty-four hours a day and no modern machanism to carry the heavy stuff, you know. It is the typical way of...an Indian way of moving the heavy stuff on the bamboos and pulling them and taking. They did it, you know, in an Indian-ised way, you know, Indian way. They did it.
Rabindra Mandap was in a dilapidated condition. You will not be able to sit down. Most of the seats were not working and those were replaced during that period of time. They couldn't complete the whole thing. After that they completed the whole thing, that thing.
Sangeet Mahavidyalaya was in a dilapidated condition. One could not even go there. I do not want to say because you know this is a recording, I am telling the thing is that, you know. I was very ashamed. I was not feeling proud that...to bring people over there. But, everything got, you know, renovated and built, you know, to accommodate this Festival and we had a ball with that experience. People say that, you know, they have never attended. Even this Festival also, they never attended in that number...to watch Odissi programmes. Doesn't matter who dances, they don't come, you know. Only two to three hundred people will come if i'ts a very well-known artist. That too if it's a local artist, they see them so often, there is no attraction.
My biggest attraction is my senior artists who are really in Delhi and other people who are the international artists. People hav lot of curiosity to watch a Japanese dancing Odissi or an American dancing Odissi or a Russian dancing Odissi or a European dancing Odissi. So, I try to give them a platform so that they can have that experience - be a part of this festival and take the experience on looking at, watching other dancers dance, attending the seminars, workshops, lecture-demonstrations and in the whole ambience of Bhubaneswar and Puri and Konark and things like that, it is a great learning experience, you know, when they go back; catch the plane and sitting down in the plane thinking, what is their experience, I bet that their heart is filled with lot of joy, that they attended.
And many of them, they have told me, you know, "Are you doing the Festival in Bhubaneswar again?" and I have said that, "I have a second thought." I really, you know, I really want to change the format, I can tell you what I have in mind. The next Festival would be within the next two to three years. But I would like to split the days between four sectors. Like, two days at each place. I would start with Delhi. Two days, I would go to Mumbai and two days I will go to Madras (Chennai) or Bangalore(Bengaluru), two days to Calcutta(Kolkata) and end in Bhubaneswar.
Ranjana: So, I think this Festival was intially supposed to be in Calcutta.
Pratap Das: That's right. That's right.
Ranjana: ...and then in Cuttack
Pratap Das: Ya. Okay. When we talk about three thousand dancers for the Guinness Book of Records, I never thought Kalinga stadium would be the place, we thought it would be closed. So, we went to Indira Gandhi Stadium, which is indoor. But, that too also, the stadium is so...The condition is not that good. The floor has been completely wasted, ruined, by renting it out to wedding occasions. Okay. And acoustically it is a nightmare because the sound will go and will echo back . The experts say that it is not the place. And, when we are talking about three thousand dancers, they said that, "No. It can not happen if we hold it here, you know, you can rest it."
It was an impossible place. Then, Barabati Stadium (Cuttack) is a private stadium, but Cuttack has lost the audience, you know, in comparison to Bhubaneshwar. Looking at the location, you cannot find a better place than this. This one and Utkal Mandap and Jayadev Bhavan is across the street. This is the cultural district of Bhubaneswar. Everything happens over here. Every day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, Rabindra Mandap is booked. There is some programme going on. So, you see, some people have made it a pass time. They come over here, they go through, they watch a show for an hour or so. What's happening - if they like, they stay, they don't like, they leave and go. So that is the reason, why I left Cuttack.
Cuttack doesn't have the logistics. They have the halls maybe. But, they are completely different places, and the traffic is a problem. One place to another, you know, people cannot travel to be on time. So, Cuttack was out of question. And secondly, I found out that most of the musicians and dancers who live in Bhubaneswar; they would like to go anywhere in the world, but they don't like to go to Cuttack.
They say, "We don't want to go to Cuttack." It is, you know, it is a journey for them. But, foreign places, no problem. So, that is the reason I cut out Cuttack. Calcutta, me and Arun, we visited Calcutta in 2009. And we went to Rabindra Sadan, Salt Lake, you know, to places, to see them. Also, went to the new ICCR auditorium. We do seminars at ICCR auditoriums, exhibits at ICCR auditoriums. Day time performance will be at Salt Lake, evening performance will be held at Rabindra Sadan; which is really the heart of Calcutta city. Somehow or the other, I found out that, the govenment wants to do it, but the mechanism is not there to support. Because government doesn't have the funds. Here, Orissa govenment has become very generous, to be very honest with you.
Active. And the money part, the money part also they have...I would not say that they have given the money just because we came from America or it is their Festival. I had to join hands with them because they also chose this time, after I left in 2006 to do the Festival and I was coming here to do the Festival. They said, 'Why not do it together?' I said, 'Wow! You know, what a great idea.' At least the facilities are...see, they have occupied, reserved the facilities for them. They would not release it to me if it were a different Festival. So, we got it together. I got lot of help and they also got lot of inspiration from us; that we are bringing international artists and splitting the cost. Guinness Book is our cost, IPAP's event and two days, twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth is our expenses. Tonight, thirtieth, finale, is my expense. So, we found it out that, you know, it is 3.5 is ours and 4.5 is theirs.
So, that is the way, the cost is going to be divided among all the costs, you know, of the Festival. But, we have our own fund-raising, they have their own fund-raising. They don't go for very active fund-raising because they are government. And we have also got government help, like Department of Culture, ICCR and also Sangeet Natak Akademy. These are the three bodies, you know, who are partly responsible. ICCR gives the money for our international programmes, Sangeet Natak Akademy is responsible for workshops, seminars, lecture-demonstrations, field-trips; they do that. And Department of Culture takes the overall cost, you know, the money will be coming.
They have not been very generous this time because of the Rabindranath Tagore (sesquicentennial) and your Commonwealth Games, have depleted all the funds, the government, you know, in spending. So we are having difficulties of getting the money. But, we will get some money. You know, because I don't know...I do not know much about Bharatanatyam Festival or Kuchipudi Festival, I just want to know how they do the Festival, so that I can learn something. But, there is no comparison or competition, because I told my people over here, 'We do not have to compete with any dance form. All are good. All are well. But, I just want Odissi to be better and stronger.' Simply that. You know.
My theme of this festival was no preference in styles. We have to stand together and be one, you know. Divided we fall and united we stand. So, forget about your style. If you are a good dancer, irrespective of your style, you will be recognised. Believe me. You don't need to be Kelu Babu's student only, to be recognised. No, that is not true. That part, I...my other purpose, from this Festival is to, to educate our practitioners, Odissi pratitioners, you know. That think collectively. Think of Orissa and Odissi together. It's not like that you know, whenever you see me or any other promoter, don't run after them. 'Sir, sir, sir, take me, take me, take me. Do my programme only. Come and visit my school, you know.' I would rather help a college like Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya or Odissi Research Centre, you know, who are a big organisation and at the same time, I would like to also see smaller organisations who can grow. But, my other goal, that I have not been able to achieve, I am telling you Ranjana because, this comes from my heart...
Odissi has become a very expensive hobby. I see that, the general people, the kids who have been dancing; not the boys, also the girls I am talking about, they are atleast from a middle-class family or upper middle-class family or rich family. It is an expensive hobby, in a sense that, you know, for a passion, if you call it, it takes money to stich a fabric, it costs money to hire a good teacher. It costs everything, you know, your promotion and everything. Where a poor person's child...doesn't have that.
So, the question comes to me, as a promoter, that being a promoter of this kind of large festival, whether I have catered to that. I thought about it. Maybe, my next festival, is going to cater to a segment that I will not call it, you know, unprivileged, but I will call them disadvantaged, you know, dancers. We have done for handicapped, physically handicapped, physically challenged, other things. But, I would like to do, I would like to pick up some good dancers from the poor who have dreams, who want to be a dancer.
Ranjana: (indistinct, question reconstructed) Do you think there is also scope to reinvigorate these institutions like Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya or Odissi Research Centre, because we don't see many dancers of note emerging from there.
Pratap Das: I really do not know...I know that every festival that we do because of the government, you know, they have been privileged to give in. But, I don't see that many solo dancers from there. I agree with you. So, what I am going to emphasize to the Principal and the government is that, first of all, before they become any popular group, they have to have good dancers, solo dancers, who can make the group better. So, what are the initiatives they have, same thing with ORC also. Whether the ORC has good calibre dancers, who can compete with these things, you know, with the other dancers, you know. So, that we have to address in the next Festival.
Ranjana: Also, I would like to...like you said earlier, the seminars. You don't see many of them taking interest in activities like the seminars that are being supported by their institutions.
Pratap Das: The only reason, you know why, the other two-way street was that the time you are doing the Festival is the holiday time for them. The kids have left, you know, for holidays. But, what we could have done, we could have given them some credit at the school, that if you attend the seminars, five seminars, either there is a scholarship for you, every day you attend, you get certain amount of money and you can write a term paper, that what you learnt.
Ranjana: Ya. I mean, that and also the teachers.
Pratap Das: Ya and the teachers also
Pratap Das: Ya. I think that's a good point - that we are going to do...And what I am going to do Ranjana, is, you know, I will make you an architect, for our next seminar with good ideas that come. These are valuable ideas. We look for people in the seminar. I can not start for fifteen-twenty minutes. Same thing with the morning programme over here. Half an hour, only few people are sitting down (we think) Oh. Five more minutes and fifty more people may come' So, we have become very over ambitious, you know. Starting the programme at ten O' clock, ten-thirty in the morning, that we cannot do the programme. So, that...that is the thing we have to do.