International Odissi Festival 2011: Odissi World Record Attempt
Duration: 00:28:11; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 23.271; Saturation: 0.229; Lightness: 0.440; Volume: 0.510; Cuts per Minute: 2.767; Words per Minute: 12.310
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.
This twenty-eight minute clip documents the attempt to create an Odissi world record by having 550 dancers perform together in a stadium. (This was later deemed successful). The dancers performed a specially arranged piece that is culled from the repertoire of three major gharanas of Odissi. All of them danced for the first few minutes, because that was one of the conditions they had to fulfil while attempting to set a record. After the mangalacharan or the invocatory item, there are significant passages that come from similar items in different repertoire sets, where dancers perform in sections, mostly dancing the piece that has been passed down in their style.
Nothwithstanding its many problems, the dance scene is suffused by a general sense of well-being. Dancers are performing in ‘India and abroad’. All is well. Where do we go from here?
Going by the last few years, the next frontier is the creation of world records. Being in the local record books is passe; a glance at the Guinness Book of World Records throws up several dance records set in India in recent times. Interestingly, many of the events involving large numbers of dancers were organised by various state governments.
Why the need to set records? On the Guinness World Records website, a note reads, “...to our readers, a world record is more than a simple fact: it’s a means of understanding your position in the world…a yardstick for measuring how you and those around you fit in. Knowing the extremes – the biggest, the smallest, the fastest, the most and the least – offers a way of comprehending and digesting an increasingly complex world overloaded with information.”
Kadachit kalindi tata vipina sangeeta kavarau
Mudabhiri nari vadana kamala swadamadhupa
Jagannatha swami nayana pathagami bhavatu me (x3)
At one time, in the forest on the banks of the Yamuna, that resounded with music,
In joyous ecstasy he would be found, like a bee sucking nectar, at the lotus lips of the gopis.
Now all the other gods worship his feet.
He Jagannatha! May you be the object of my vision.
The initial Odissi world record was conceived with 3000 dancers in mind. It was inspired by the record set in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh in 2010, which had the largest number of Kuchipudi dancers (2850) perform one thillana. The entire festival was scheduled to take place at Cuttack, but some months before the festival, the venue was changed to Bhubaneswar.
The dancers in the central section are from the Kelucharan Mohapatra style (gharana) of Odissi. Dancers on the right and left are from the Deba Prasad Das and Pankaj Charan Das styles. How does one conflate a many-layered dance into a single thirty minute presentation that does justice to the form? While all the styles of Odissi share a similar structure in terms of repertoire, each gharana has distinct nuances. The different gharanas of Odissi have had an earlier meeting point in Jayantika, the 1957 conclave of Odissi gurus who came together to codify the style and give its repertoire a structure.
Bhumi Pranam - seeking forgiveness from the earth for stamping on her.
The record attempt calls for the quantification of dance. What is it like to dance in a stadium? When dancers' thoughts are turned towards luxury, they discuss dance floors. Wood is the best, sprung wood - because it supports your knee and responds to your stamping. Cement is the worst, dead and unyielding. Sand is a challenge, but if you are the picture of determination, you dance on sand to strengthen your limbs. What must it be like then, to dance on somewhat grassy ground? The dancers have rehearsed in the stadium all day, for ten days, their presence coinciding with the harshest moods of the sun.
Kalpavriksham tala sthitam
Uma putram mahakayam
I salute the one who rises over obstacles,
The one who is to be found at the base of the Kalpavriksha (a mythical tree),
The son of Uma, the big-bodied one,
The tusked one, the one who is proficient in dance,
Tandava priya putraya
Tandava priya rupinam
Namo chintamani nityam shuddha buddhi pradayakam
The son of he who loves tandava,
The image of he who loves tandava,
I salute thee, the one who bestows pure thought.
Ganesha is prayed to to remove all obstacles. The initial plan of having 3000 dancers perform had to be shelved after it was discovered that this would mean spending a considerable amount of money, even to pay per diems to the dancers who would travel from all over the country to be part of the world record.
The point in a mangalacharan where the dancer establishes contact with and acknowledges the audience through the choreography.
Batu Nritya - Raga Mohana
(Kelucharan Mohapatra style)
An ode to Shiva in his form as Batuka Bhairava. Batu or sthai, variants performed across different styles in Odissi, is one of the first full-length dance pieces that a student is introduced to. The steps are usually simple, yet not lacking in rigour.
A similar ukuta (syllabic refrain) sung in a different raga.
Sthai (Deba Prasad Das stye)
Sequentially, the portions chosen from each of the batu/ sthai variations take the piece towards its climax.
Sabdaswarapata, or the recitation of meaningful words in a rhythmic verse.
The costumes worn by the dancers are draped sarees. For reasons of convenience, the draped sari is rarely worn for stage performance. Here, the dancers have also covered the upper half of their bodies with a pallu. This is not unusual, but there are exceptions. Odissi dancers from the Sutra Dance Theatre in Malaysia are perhaps the only ones who use the draped sari in combination with a blouse, and no pallu. In 2005, they found themselves at the centre of a raging controversy after one such performance in Orissa, with detractors doubly enraged because the principal dancer was wearing a navel ring. Debates around this continued online for several months, with leading scholars and dancers taking sides, a signature petition and much quoting of ancient texts by all parties concerned.
Also see Odissi and freedom of expression
Raga Shankarabharanam - Shankara Pallavi
Kelucharan Mohapatra's composition
Pankaj Charan Das' composition
thei thei thei thei
[(Ta-ri-jham) x3] x3
Kelucharan Mohapatra - Shankara Pallavi
Return to a faster sthayi
Ironically, in relocating Odissi and in the dancers having to learn steps from the repertoire of three different gharanas of Odissi, the mechanics of the record performance nods towards the improvisational nature of gotipua dance. Gotipua performers usually dance to live music, and often in non-proscenium venues. Their most common stage is the village square. During rituals, they perform in processions on the roads and in one particular ritual of the Puri temple, in a boat.
While the basic postures and principles of Odissi are mostly similar, there are nuances that distinguish the different gharanas from each other. Thus one may find that the dancers in maroon tend to move their heads more often than those in white, who might perform the same phrase using neck movements. With time, these changes have also permeated the basic Odissi posture - chowka, the square stance. The gotipua chowka has always been wide. Some dancers prefer a wider chowka, while others opt to make it narrower, because one has more control over the body when its parts are closer to the centre.
The plurality of the chowka is clearly one of convenience. If its dimensions have changed over the years, these changes reflect each generation's different understanding of space. The Odissi aesthetic is as much 'constructed' in the here and now, our understanding of space and bodies firmly factored into it, as it may have been through its links to an ancient past.
A popular gotipua composition, performed by the akhadas in Puri, notably Raghurajpur.
Dekho go ago sakhi radha madhava chali
O sakhi, look there, see Radha-Madhava arrive
Orissa has a unique place on the map. It has much in common with the East of India. Yet, south of Puri, Orissa also seamlessly merges into Andhra Pradesh. There are whole villages where Telugu is spoken as much as Oriya. State borders are a new thing - perhaps only as new as Jayantika. Even Cuttack, which is further up north, has a Telengapatana and a Telenga Bazar (derived from Telangana). It is said that many of the maharis of the Puri temple came from the region that is now Andhra Pradesh. So these are culturally contiguous zones.
Puri is also a busy pilgrimage spot. For a long time, it has received visitors from outside the region.
It is rather alarming then, that new-fangled strictures of geography, and language, are increasingly being invoked upon to cramp the definition of Odissi. Talking of language, the standing disagreement about the 12th century poet Jayadeva's birthplace has led to interesting ends. Jayadeva's Sanskrit epic, the Gita Govinda, has great importance in Vaishnava devotional traditions. The Oriya story maintains that Jayadeva was born in Orissa and wrote his epic in the Puri temple, marrying the temple dancer Padmavati. Odissi is deeply invested in the performance of the ashtapadi, or the eight-line stanzas from the Gita Govinda. The Bengali story situates him in a village of the same name - Kenduli, now in Birbhum district, where his memory is evoked in the Jayadeva Mela or the Kenduli Utsav, an annual gathering of Baul singers and musicians. Periodically, barbs are exchanged by ideologues and scholars who go into etymological frenzies over the word 'Kenduli'. Yet, Jayadeva's accurate antecedents are of little value to the Bauls, or the maharis of the Puri temple, for whom Jayadeva and his work are one.
Mani bimana ase jhuli jhuli...
Dekho go dekho sakhi...
Look at their carriage sway gently as it moves ahead.
O, look my friend...
freedom of expression
Bibidha bajana birakahali
bije kolle gopa danda ucchulu
(A description of the various musical instruments that resound through the streets of Braja.)
Today, Odissi dancers are being censured and threatened by some for their use of specific modes of costume, music and choreography. The sense of ownership and lineage in a traditional dance form is important; nevertheless, it is dangerous if it manifests itself as feudal and proprietary. Attempting to curb its expression by challenging the way it is being interpreted reflects - if anything - little regard, for the syncretic culture Odissi has emerged from.
The final piece in an Odissi recital; a dance of devotion and abandon.
Look beyond the cracks in the wall, and what is most fascinating about Odissi's history is that it is so visible - it has had a short life as a 'classical dance'. It was officially deemed one only in 1958. It is possible to connect it to the multiple directions it has taken, just fifty years down, through a rich oral and compositional narrative still available to us as first-person stories and lived experience; because as late as ten years ago, people who were part of Jayantika were actively choreographing and adding to the Odissi repertoire. In the process, their understanding of Odissi technique was also constantly changing.
It would make for a rather stilted narrative, then, if one were to stop here and freeze Odissi in its present form, rudely recalling it from its state of flux.