International Odissi Festival 2011: In conversation with Kiran Segal
Duration: 00:27:18; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 17.247; Saturation: 0.340; Lightness: 0.433; Volume: 0.139; Cuts per Minute: 0.110; Words per Minute: 124.215
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.
Kiran Segal was born in Dehradun and grew up in Bombay and London. Born to Zohra and Rameshwar Segal, she was exposed to the performing arts from a young age. She returned to India as a Bharatanatyam dancer, then taking to Odissi under Guru Mayadhar Raut in Delhi. Eventually, she decided to make Odissi her mainstay. Today, she is one of the leading dancers of the Mayadhar Raut style. Here, she talks about the choreographic legacy of her teacher, and comments on contemporary trends in dance making and pedagogy.
Ranjana: So, this is meant to be a very comprehensive interview. So, I would like you to start right in the beginning and talk about your early childhood...
Kiran Segal: Oh, my childhood! I am very much a Bombay person. As a kid, I was born in Dehradun, but brought up in Bombay. I went to school in Bombay. My parents, I don't know if you know, they are both artists - dancers. Later on, after my father expired, we moved to Delhi and from Delhi, my mother went off on a lecture-demonstration tour through Russia. Then she decided to go to London for a short course in dramatics. She was by then, you know, a theatre person. And the Chinese apparently decided, you know, to look towards India and of course, my mother thought the first thing they are going to get at, you know (laughing) are my children, and so I must have my kids next to me. So, I was uprooted from here, me and my younger brother, straight to London.
I stayed in London for eight years; then (I) married a Swiss jewellery designer. Then I came back because the 'keedha'
of dance, you know, I couldn't keep it out of my system. Although I was also dancing in London and dancing in India, my childhood has been in dance and theatre. So, somehow that, and perhaps also combined with nostalgia, because I was never comfortable in England. Outwardly, you know, you try to mingle with the people, with the society, but from within, the Indianness was 'Indda, India, India'.
And so I came back in '75 and decided to carry on. I was a professional Bharatanatyam dancer. I decided to carry on with Bharatanatyam and also joined Odissi. Now, this was the choice of the Guru...
The choice of the guru was by my mother who had seen the work of Guru Mayadhar Raut, his Gita Govinda composition, which was presented when Kamani auditorium was inaugurated. I think it was in 1971. So she was here at that time and being a choreographer and dancer herself, in her early days, she was very taken by Guruji's work, guru Mayadhar Raut. And she insisted that I should learn from him at Shri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Delhi. So, when I came back, I started my work with him and worked with him for a very long time; and then performed Bharatanatam and Odissi together for a few years. After which I realized that there was a lot of friction within me when I was performing both the styles. I was also sent on an ICCR tour to South America. And I am talking of... I think it was 1984, where I had to perform both the styles. So for the first half I would perform one style. Interval. Change costume and everything outwardly, and you know, change into the next style. Although I danced it, I always felt within...
So, although I performed both the styles, I felt that changing outwardly was fine, but inwardly, I was not with the second style. My Self was still dancing in the earlier and I thought I wasn't doing justice. So, I gave up Bharatanatyam, which I enjoyed doing equally, and then just stuck to Odissi. I also started getting more offers in Odissi. And the funny thing was, all my collegues in dance, those who were Bharatanatyam dancers said to me, "Oh, your Odissi is so beautiful, so wonderful". And those who used to do Odissi, they would say, " Your Bharatanatyam is so (laughing) beautiful." So you could always sense this undercurrent, you know. However, by choice, I went into Odissi. I feel also, maybe because of the language. Tamil, you know, is very different from Hindi and Oriya. Although I used to take great pains, whenever I did abhinaya compositions et cetera, by learning the song, going to various scholars, sitting with them, getting the shabdha artha, kavya artha of everything and then, you know, dancing it. But, Oriya came a little more easily to me. Then I did Odissi completely. And here I am, in this Third International Dance Festival, performing.
Ranjana: I think there are a lot of dancers who danced in the '60s ... a lot of them started with Bharatanatyam or Kathak.
Kiran Segal: Yes, Yes. Bharatanatyam, Kathak. There is a reason for that and that�s because the re-revival of...
Kiran Segal: There is a reason for it. Odissi's re-revival was very late, as you know, the mid 50s, when it was first noticed as a dance form and then as a classical dance form. So that is the reason; unlike present day dancers who have started with Odissi, stuck to Odissi and are dancing Odissi. So that's the reason.
Ranjana: Mayadhar Raut's style is sometimes seen as the fourth gharana of Odissi. What are the characteristics of this style?
Kiran Segal: Guruji's work, at least what we have learnt from him, there is a lot of emphasis on the chouka
, the arms are placed straight. In some styles, I have seen in the dancers, the arms go down like this. There isn't a forward bend to the body at all, it's straight and the movements of the arms are clearer, more specific; rather than - you know, there are certain movements where we do this.
The movement is this, and then this (demonstrates). Whereas in other gharanas, I have seen it from here and then down here. Then, also the arms, is this; in others I have seen this. And, it's nice. It's nice that there is a variation because it's interesting to see so many sampradayas
or gharanas. And Guruji's compositions are... he was of course very abhinaya
based in all his work. His choreographies and 'pallavis' also, I find sometimes they are very difficult because suddenly it is a very odd movement. It doesn't come naturally. I used to sort of, always laugh and say this, whenever I am teaching his compositions to my disciples. They say, "Oh Didi, this is so difficult to do". I say, "You have to do it. If you want to learn my Guru's work, you have to do it exactly as he taught it to us. You can learn my work separately, but don't change this. That's the way it is."
Then I would just laugh and say that, "Guruji must have really hated us to make life so difficult for us." But it's interesting and when I see, I am not a dancer who feels that only my Guru's work is the best Guru; or any other Guru's work for that matter. I see all the four styles...I have also seen Guru Surendranath Jena, a totally different style of Odissi and he has been criticized and I can't understand why, because that is an artist's interpretation of what he sees in sculptures and that's equally beautiful. Why can't we as a dancing tribe, see the beauty in other people's dance forms.
And also of course, a lot depends on the dancer. A beautiful form can be ruined by a bad dancer and likewise, a good dancer can take anything across. If you remember, the other day, Leelaji, when we were having that seminar, she was saying this. A lot depends on the dancer. How well she portrays or tries to communicate to you through her movements, her self, her body, eyes, face, everything. Whatever she is trying to and the gharana
Ranjana: Can you talk a little about the compositions of your guru and his creative process?
Kiran Segal: He has done several, I am talking generally now. I have seen him work, I have seen him create. He is a very thinking person. Even when he used to do his abhinaya pieces, at times, the interpretations that he would give, they were not easily understood. And, he would change it quite often, you know, whilst he was creating, whilst he was choreographing or composing, he would say, "Maya, you do it like this" and in the next session he would say, "Aise try karo, ya waise" ("Try it like this, or that") which is very natural for a thinking mind. And I have noticed that he would really put his entire, you know, his soul and mind and body and everything into it.
pieces are just terrific, just wonderful, with a lot of...This evening, I will be doing one which he composed for me. I had seen Minati Mishra do 'Nindati chandana...' long time ago and I was so overwhelmed by it and she is a beautiful dancer when she does abhinaya
, her subtlety in expression. So I was after his life. "Guruji, I want to do this, please teach me, please teach me". Till then, you see he had done other pieces, but never done Nindati chandana
. So he said, "Okay" and we sat down and worked out the text and everything and he composed it. I hope you will be able to see it this evening, beautiful piece! Beautiful piece! He has done other compositions, Kuruyadu nandana
, Sakhi he
et cetera, which are based on Bhubaneswar Mishra's music. People get sometimes confused. Isn't this another Guru's work and we say, "No, the music is the same. But the dance is different."
Ranjana: Nindati chandana
is also, I think, is not an ashtapadi that you see being performed very often...
Kiran Segal: Oh yes, it's either Lalita lavanga lata
, Sakhi he
, Kuruyadu nandana
. His Yahi madhava
is beautiful! And then he composed a lovely Shiva Tandava piece on Shiva Bhagwan, of course, called Jaago Maheshwara
and he taught it to us. I think we were a group that was learning. He had earlier taught it to his senior-most disciple Aloka Panicker and then again he changed the entire choreography and taught it to us and now, of course, I can't dance it because it is a very vigorous composition. So, I have taught it to some of my leading disciples and I think you have seen one of them - Supriya Nayak, do it. Then I have also choreographed the whole piece, not composed it; now, there is a big difference, I have not composed Jaago Maheshwara
, choreographed it, with four to five dancers, with Guruji's permission.
(Break in recording)
Kiran Segal: They have wasted a lot many years. Can you now please teach our daughter? You ask the child to dance, you see that the child has all the potential, you know, she has the talent, she has the happiness, everything in her. But, the body is moulded in a very strange way and there is...what do you do? Five - six years of moulding, and then you have to...its more difficult for us to work with somebody like that because you have to unmould that mould, and the child cannot understand, why am I being made to do all the basics all over again, all the exercises all over again, when I have learnt so much. A child's mind doesn't understand and it's more of a suffering for them as well as for the teacher. It's a painful process.
In order to avoid this, I really don't know; I am against a brick wall. I don't know how to just get it, you know, out, because a lot of good talent is being wasted; because I have suffered this. I have had parents come to me with their child and some parents were very keen that their girl should be up on stage which is another sad thing about these days. A feeling of so many years of teaching and sincerity and learning and then appearing on stage, when people can look at you and say, "Waah! Kya baat hai!
How wonderful." Naturally, the Guru's name also goes ahead with that. So those days, I think, are fast disappearing because everybody wants very quick results...very quick.
Ranjana: Do you also think it is something to do with ... here I am addressing two or three different points. There is, I think, there is a flatness of quality. Everyone's dancing looks a lot more... I don't know, tighter, maybe, in terms of...
Kiran Segal: Tighter? When you say tighter, what do you mean?
Ranjana: I don't know. I don't think I mean it completely in the positive sense, but also that it�s getting very standardized, the way people go. At least people of certain styles.
Kiran Segal: Like a factory output...hmm...That's happening.
Ranjana: And secondly there is a pressure of having to make these decisions faster because if you don't, you study something else...
Kiran Segal: No. Making decisions faster, meaning? You mean in what way?
Ranjana: Like in terms of wanting to be a dancer. Is it as easy to decide that way, I mean, if you want to be a dancer, that kind of thing?
Ranjana: Like it was, perhaps, I mean, some decades ago
Kiran Segal: You see, these days, I think people are looking at dance as a job. They are not looking at dance, because they have that passion to dance, they want to dance, they can't do anything else; they are not happier doing anything else.
Kiran Segal: And, everything...we were having this discussion sometime ago, that everything is now seen in terms of, how much money will I get back.
Kiran Segal: Dance, I understand that we are dancing and we are earning from it, we are living by it also. But, this comes much later. The initial thing is the will and the wanting to dance and wanting to do it well. You know, you have to be in love with it. There is no other way. You have to be in love with it. And, then also, it comes much later; whether you are going to make a success of it or not and that is, 'by the way'. If it happens, good. Good for you.
Kiran Segal: There is a lot of, I think, public relations involved. A lot. Just being a good dancer, a committed dancer, passionate dancer; all this is very much needed.
Kiran Segal: But later, you know, later, I say. These days what is happening is the public relations is taking first place and the hard work is sort of going 'peeche, peeche, peeche' (backwards)
Kiran Segal: In that sense I do feel that things have changed a little bit.
Kiran Segal: What you say about factory output, that I feel is because, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's students are in abundance. We have another style of Guru Debaprasad Das, and a beautiful style, a very strong form of Odissi, equally beautiful. You have Guru Mayadhar Raut style, you have Guru Pankaj Charan Das style. But unfortunately, I, you know, don't know who is teaching his style. I saw, Neeta Roy, of course, sorry, Ratna Roy, who now lives in America, trains dancers there, in Pankaj Charan Babu's style and I saw a dancer, who danced the Basant Pallavi, choreographed by Guru Pankaj Charan Das, in Delhi. She is called Chapala Mishra and she was supposed to dance yesterday, she didn't dance. And what a beautiful choreography that was! Basanta Pallavi. Beautiful! I wish, you know, I had learnt that. Exquisite!
Kiran Segal: But there, you see now, who is teaching it? I wish she would because she has learnt it. I wish Ratna would delegate some of her disciples here.
Ranjana: She performed the same Basanta Pallavi too, with her troupe.
Kiran Segal: Yes. Basanta Pallavi. Beautiful. Lovely it was. And where Guruji is concerned, Guruji now of course, Guru Mayadhar Raut doesn't teach much, so I have heard. His daughter teaches and I teach his form, his style because I have never learnt Odissi from any other Guru, only him. Whereas, I think there are several dancers who learn from here, there and everywhere.
Ranjana: So, do you really, that is also a reason why, like, we are tending to go to one place and you go for a special class with someone. But then, you also have your regular Guru. So, maybe that also attributes to the flattening...
Kiran Segal: One is, from whatever I saw, and of course you had this brilliant Guru, Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, who is no more. From whatever I have seen in the Festival, I have enjoyed it immensely, but perhaps, perhaps it is because there are so many dancers and each dancer is given hardly twelve minutes, amongst the younger dancers. And one after the other...one after the other, to the onlooker, I mean, to somebody like me, maybe not to the audience that is there. But to me, it gets a bit too much. Because you are seeing, more or less, the same Pallavi being performed, the same abhinaya being performed and also in the same manner with the...the personal output is not coming. It all seems to be very measured. Perhaps that's what you are talking about, that flatness, you know.
Kiran Segal: Maybe, the technique is overriding the emotion, maybe. That is what I...and perhaps Pratap Das or whoever is helping him with this; there could be fewer dancers. Not totally fifty percent, but maybe, just a few and the younger dancers perhaps could be given little more time. Then seniors like us are given twenty minutes, half an hour. Yet, I have noticed that some danced beyond that. And here we are sincerely timing twenty minutes, we must dance only twenty minutes because you see, here it shows your own consideration as to how much you consider the entire program. You go on and on and on, the programme gets later and later and later and the last dancer, poor thing, suffers because there are hardly any people left in the audience. That is not fair. It's not fair to the artist, you know.
Ranjana: There is some things that you think and which are also in some (?) questions because I am a student of dance and like, and what I have learnt is that, I don't know, it doesn't have to be life-like but at the same time there is, there is some limit to exaggeration. So I don't know what the right answer is, like if you are holding your 'ghoongat' like this...I am not sure it's the...
Kiran Segal: You are measuring cloth by the yard (laughing). That's very funny holding your 'ghoongat'.
Ranjana: I have seen a lot of dancers do that and I have noticed this...and I think, what is this? You can't...
(laughing) Flying a kite...(laughing)
Ranjana: Certainly yes, it looks good on some people but, I don't know, how do you sort of distinguish between what looks good and then make aesthetic decisions also. Also remember where the form came from...
Kiran Segal: Then I sometimes wonder, is the concept of 'ghoongat' there in Odissi? Is it there?
Kiran Segal: Especially when you are talking of...Perhaps it's there nowadays, I don't know. Because 'ghoongat' is a very North Indian thing, isn't it? And yet we do show this, the 'ghoongat' in dance. Yes.
Kiran Segal: Perhaps you immediately think (hand gesture of 'ghoongat'/ veil)
Kiran Segal: Haven't seen any sculptures with women showing (the veil).
Ranjana: I don't know. Now whenever you are depicting a woman...
Kiran Segal: Yes, it does. This (hand gesture of 'ghoongat') is the first thing that you do
Kiran Segal: Maybe now it's accepted. Maybe, now because women are supposed to cover their head and all, away from the cities; maybe even in the cities.
Ranjana: I think I have exhausted all my questions. If there is anything else that you would like to add?
I think I have said more or less whatever...I feel that some dancers have been allowed to present more than one disciple. And, two disciples plus group. So, this is a bit much. Why not others? You know. Why wasn't I asked? I have been doing group choreography for a very long time. But, I mean, how do you? The moment you say something like this, the answer is, "Oh! She must be jealous. Oh, because she wasn't asked to do this." It is not that. But on the other hand, if you keep quiet, nobody takes notice. Nobody even bothers to even, you know, see.
And for some, it's too much. Solo. Solo. Group. Group. The same person. Kyun?
(Why?) Aisa kyun?
(Why so?) Why do you disregard your own people and why don't you ever go and see their work. Those, the powers that be, you know, that make this selection. Hona chahiye
(It should happen)
(laughing) That's all!