International Odissi Festival 2011: In conversation with Madhavi Mudgal
Duration: 00:21:35; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 352.652; Saturation: 0.127; Lightness: 0.644; Volume: 0.070; Cuts per Minute: 0.185; Words per Minute: 127.002
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.
Madhavi Mudgal grew up surrounded by music and dance. Her fater, Pt. Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, established the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Delhi in 1939. She initially trained in Kathak and also some Bharatanatyam, but ultimately chose Odissi, charmed by a grace she found only in this form. Her compositional work is strongly influenced by the Hindustani music tradition she grew up with. She is known for her group and solo compositions, and for the innovative use of music and costume. She speaks about her influences, her work, and airs her views on present-day learning trends in this interview.
Hare Krishna Behera
Triveni Kala Sangam
Vinay Chandra Maudgalya
poetry of music
Ranjana: So, Madhaviji, we would like you to talk about your...childhood. You have grown up in the...you have been surrounded by music and dance...
Madhavi Mudgal: Yes. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been born into a family where music...I was surrounded by music and dance, since my birth. Both my parents were musicians. My father established, in 1939, way back - the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Delhi, in New Delhi. And it is one of the oldest schools of classical music and dance, in Delhi.
Madhavi Mudgal: We also had all the musicians coming and staying with us, at that time. So all the greats of that time, you know. And also there were concerts held at the Vidyalaya. We also stayed. So it was, really, I mean, music was...couldn't be separated from our lives and I think that has enriched me so much; because dance is actually for me, personally, the visualization of music and you know, poetry. Poetry of music, poetry of, you know, literary part of course. But, music is its soul. That really helped me to become the dancer I am today.
Ranjana: When you started, you started by training in Kathak, and then switched to Odissi. As I was just telling Kiran Segal yesterday, this is characteristic of a lot of dancers in the '60s...
Madhavi Mudgal: Ya, that's right. You know, because when I started learning, there was no Odissi. No Odissi training, I would say. Uh. As a child, only Kathak and Bharatanatyam was being taught, at that time. Uh. Odissi came to Delhi only in the late sixties and thats when I started learning with Guru Hare Krishna Behera in Delhi, who came to Delhi to teach. Then, Guruji, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. Started with him in around '71-'72.
He used to come to Delhi and I used to come here to his house in Cuttack and stay for months altogether. In fact, I was studying to be an architect. But, in the fourth year, you know, I really had to decide whether dance or architecture. So, I decided dance. At time, I was doing Kathak quite a bit, you know, performing. Bharatanatyam, I just learnt as a child. I never performed. But, Kathak I was doing quite seriously and was also partnering one of the greatest Kathak dancers of our country, Pandit Durga Lal, who unfortunately passed away very young.
And I had the blessings of all the great Gurus, you know, learning with them. Uh. My Odissi learning was much later, in my teens. But, since my childhood, since I was three or four I was dancing.
Ranjana: You were talking about how you chose Kathak first.
Madhavi Mudgal: Yes. I was dancing Kathak professionally and that's when I started learning Odissi. So, I was learning Odissi, learning Kathak, performing Kathak. But, Odissi's lyricism, the subtlety, the grace of the form really attracted me, when I saw Odissi. At that time, I saw Sanjukta Panigrahi, I saw Kumkum Das...Kumkum Mohanty now. And, I was so fascinated by something...it's uh...something that was not in the other two forms. So, I decided to give up completely (sic) the other two styles and concentrate on Odissi and finally, I gave up my studies too, to pursue, you know, dance in all seriousness. Because being in such an environment, I knew what it requires to really hone one's talent. Talent is not eneough, never enough. You have to hone it, you have to really train with the Gurus, consistently, over a long period of time.
Ranjana: Could you talk about training in dance - what you have seen around you in the '70s. I think that's a very vital aspect of dance history because it's not the same anymore.
Madhavi Mudgal: Yes. When, we were learning, I guess, the times were different. Uh I don't say that...the commitment today is any less; but the demands are far more. And..uh...I think, being focused on one (thing) is not enough for the present generation. They want to do this, that, the other. It's not that we didn't do it. But, we were still focussed. We didn't have internet, we didn't have television to that extent. So, our evenings were always for, you know, going to art galleries or plays, watching a play or seriously pursuing the dance form. You know, training and then practising and giving it all you, you could at that time. So, the training is different, the teachers are also, I think, different. That generation of Gurus, I think, has really gone.
Madhavi Mudgal: We are teachers now. I can not call ourselves Gurus. You know it's a big word because a teacher is not merely teaching you to dance. Teacher gives you guidance, teacher, literally the one who takes away the darkness of your...lifts the veil of darkness of your mind. That is a Guru. So these are...Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, my Guru, who was a really, really a great soul, a visionary. I would say, he was the architect of present-day Odissi. So, the training we got, I think I was very lucky, very consistent, very focussed. Even the Gurus had more time for the students, at that time.
Ranjana: I was also wondering, it was also very individual-based. Like, often in your time, you have compositions, they were done on you...
Madhavi Mudgal: Yes. Absolutely. Yes, that is true. Yes, um, at that time, we...less people were learning of course and yes, one-to-one training is certainly different than being in a class. But, I would say, like in present day, like the way I teach. I teach in a group, of course. But then you pick up the talented ones and those who really want to pursue it seriously, then you teach them separately. So, it's a combination of both institutional training and individual training. So, then, only then these artists can emerge. To be a soloist requires a lot of, not just the talent but a lot of good training and one's own...you know...pakana jis ko bolte hain
(what is called to ripen). You know, you have to just, be in it, be with it all the time and grow. You can't aim to be a performer. You just have to learn unquestioningly.
Today, the training is to ask questions, you know - the students are taught in schools to ask questions right from day one. This whole American system...whatever it is. We learnt. But, the Gurus told you when the time to question, you know. They brought you to a level that gave you that drishti
(vision or way) to question. But, today it's different. My students can ask me questions. I give them that freedom. Because they are like that. But you have to bring them slowly into this process and I must say that there are some who really do it seriously and the way we want them to learn.
Ranjana: Coming to your work, you've been using a very Hindustani aesthetic...I don't know how to put that.
Madhavi Mudgal: The music?
Ranjana: Yeah. It's actually your Pallavis
Madhavi Mudgal: Wow! I must say...That is a very interesting question because I did Bharatanatyam and Kathak earlier. So, in terms of repertoire, there was so much material available. You know, a Bharatanatyam dancer has hundreds of thillanas
, hundreds of javalis
, hundreds of varnams
, many specially composed for dance. But still. These classical compositions exist. When we started Odissi, there was hardly any material that was old, that was available to us, except the Oriya songs. You know, which are traditional songs and beautiful songs, which we danced to. Initially, not much abhinaya
was done to Oriya songs. We always had more Sanskrit abhinaya
, when we started in the '60s and '70s.
So, in order to create a composition, you need a classical piece. Therefore, since now of course Odissi music has developed. they have re..sort of reworked it and put several ragas
. But, even now, if you compare to the...in terms of the performances of Odissi music, Odissi raga
music. Because, without raga
base creation is, I don't think it is valid, uh, it can have a life. You know, a composition must have the base of raga
that then...So, I mean, I have the access or you know...to Hindustani music.
Also, when Guruji...if you look at the earliest compositions that were created by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, with Pandit Bhubaneswar Mishra, of course, the raga's
names were Khamaj
and you know...of course Saveri
, these were...because Orissa is in between, you know, the South and the North. So, the names were those. But, the way of singing was different. But, all the ashtapadis
are all composed in Hindustani ragas
, at that time. So I composed most...bacause I must have a raga
base to create.
Ranjana: Here, I also wanted to add another...I've often heard its said that, I mean, I don't know how true it is, but, Odissi music is in between the Hindustani and Carnatic. Of course, in all systems of music, you have one name for a raga, you call it Bhairava
and Maya Malava Gowla
in the Carnatic. Does it have a base of its own or does it draw from the others...?
Madhavi Mudgal: Well, there are many texts available of...in music in Orissa. There has unfortunately not been a continuous performing tradition of the classical music of Orissa. You know, even today you hear a Carnatic
..., you know, so many famous musicians of Carnatic
singing, so many famous Hindustani
. Well in Odissi music, it's just beginning. You know, there is not, there has been no continous tradition, in that sense. And if you want to, if there is a particular raga
, in Hindustani
you will find twenty-five bandishes
or many more bandishes
in that particular raga
. Here it is impossible to find. So, it is being recreated. Like Odissi dance was recreated in the 50s, so let's hope we will have a solid system of Odissi raga
music. There is a lot of beautiful Odissi music in terms of the traditional songs, you know, chhanda
and...very beautiful and they should be kept the way they are. They should not be brought zabardasti
(forcefully) into a raga
Ranjana: I think I have seen one of your pieces with chhandas
on the sailors from Cuttack going away...
Madhavi: Ya. Ya. Ya. Tapoi
. That's completely based on...
Ranjana: How do you, sort of, interpret them while working on them?
Madhavi Mudgal: Oriya songs? Oriya literature?
Madhavi Mudgal: Well, I understand Oriya, so...and without that the flavour is not...and this Tapoi
was based on...this I got,uh, an Oriya composer to compose it for me and we used a lot of traditional tunes for that piece. So, that has a very heavy Oriya flavour and also that text is sung in every household. So, it has to have that base of...Traditional Odissi tunes, they are not necessarily ragas
, you know. But they are so beautiful. So, for Tapoi
I used completely Odissi tunes. Today, you will see Kumarasambhavam
- Kalidasa's...Of course, it is a highly edited version. But, that is all Hindustani ragas that we used.
Ranjana: Also I again, here, have a very nebulous query. You know, things get said, like, you know. I am addressing this question to you because you use female singers a lot. Many people prefer not to...if you go for an Ashtapadi
, for instance, they prefer not to use a female singer even if a woman is performing. I don't know, I mean, how much truth there is to it...
Madhavi Mudgal: I think, it has to be a good singer. Female, male, it doesn't matter, if it's a singer with bhava
, you know, it doesn't matter. Yes, you are right, I have heard some dancers say that they can only relate to male voice. I have no such preference. I use, if it's a good voice, female voice can be very, very beautiful. You know, there is one technical problem why male voices are used more, because the pakhawaj
doesn't sound, you know the...if you take a lower note and a female singer, you will find most female singers in a very high pitch. If you tune the pakhawaj
at a lower swara
, then it doesn't give a good sound. So, you know C, C#, this is the basic tonic, swara
, that they like to use. So, male voices suit that. Maybe that's why. I mean, I am just trying to give a point of view. But, I like female voices. Good voices.
Ranjana: Haan, you also used that in harmony.
Madhavi Mudgal: Yes. I use both.
Ranjana: Another thing, you have been working with Alarmel Valli...
Madhavi Mudgal: I am impressed! (laughing) Throughly impressed. Yes.
Ranjana: So, how have you gone about that? It's not so simple and such things can also go wrong, I mean...
Madhavi Mudgal: Right. right. And also, it's not for the sake of doing a jugalbandi
. You know, people will ask us to do a jugalbandi
with anybody. It can never work like that. You have to have a process of working together, you know, you have to have a mindset, you have to have some common feel for the art. Although, you will see that Valli and I have completely contrasting personalities. But, our sensitivity towards art or our feeling towards art, we share a lot of common taste. And when we wanted to do a duet, it was not that jugalbandi
, in the sense that one stands and does something, then the other one comes and...
Madhavi Mudgal: So, we had to work very, very hard to find corresponding movements in both the styles. Sometimes contrasting, sometimes similar. And she has done a bit of Odissi and I have done a bit of Bharatanatyam. So, we would, you know, search for a common base. So, certain compositions were completely from Bharatanatyam repertoire like a Thillana
and some compositions, a Padam
we did, for example. So, some compositions were like the Mangalacharan
we did in the Odissi style. And, one composition we did for the Kennedy Center, for the Maximum India Festival
, where we used both a Pallavi
and a Thillana
together; juxtaposed with the same raga
but different talas
. But, it's very beautifully put together. So, it has compositions, the musical structures of both woven together.
Ranjana: So, the musicians also worked together?
Madhavi Mudgal: Musicians also worked together. See...So, that is the thing. One based in Madras, one in Delhi and getting them together, it is, you know, to work. She would come to Delhi, I would go to Madras. But, also to get all the musicans together, is a big challenge, you know. The logistics itself was difficult. But, one piece, it's called, we callSamanvaya
, was done with Madhup (Mudgal) singing and O. S. Arun, they sang, so that's recorded because we can't have these great singers to sing for us on stage, all the time, when we perform. So, some pieces are recorded also.
Ranjana: So, we are coming towards the end now. I think, even with the same guru in Odissi, like Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's students, different generations of students have different, like...
Ranjana: So, different generations of students have different, the way their (Madhavi Mudgal interjects: Styles...) bodies move are different and...
Madhavi Mudgal: Perfect observation. I must say.
Ranjana: So, how do you, I mean, now at least we are reaching that...not completely, but there is some amount of...like, everyone is tending to look the same and...Not just in terms of movement, but also jewellery and...I think, for example, it's very interesting how you use very bright colours in your costumes. Like green and pink. Also A, how do you use that, and B, have your students ever expressed this...
Madhavi Mudgal: Yes. I try to...you will see again, my students' jewellery is different, but in a group we can't have one person wearing something, and one person wearing something very different. It should be somewhat similar, if you want some kind of uniformity in a group; and yet, each individual dancer has a personality. Many students of the same teacher, you know, have a different...so, how to? The challenge is in a group, how to retain everyone's individuality ,yet bring out very clean lines. You know, I am very obsessed with the technique part, because that is very necessary. To bring out a choreography, you need a common training level; trained bodies in the same kind of movement technique, and then you create. And yet, each individual dancer must have something to say.