Interview: Lingaraj Pradhan
Cinematographer: Ranjana Dave
Duration: 00:27:48; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 70.845; Saturation: 0.069; Lightness: 0.381; Volume: 0.318; Cuts per Minute: 0.072; Words per Minute: 80.755
Summary: Lingaraj Pradhan is a senior dancer and teacher at Rudrakshya in Bhubaneswar. He has been trained under Bichitrananda Swain since the age of 15, besides being under the direct supervision of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan. He has completed an M. Mus in Odissi from Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya and has been a recipient of the national scholarship from the government. He studied Mardala under the tutelage of Guru Sri Banamali Moharana, Guru Sri Gangadhar Pradhan and is continuing under Guru Shree Dhaneswar Swain.
In this interview with Ranjana Dave, Pradhan speaks about his journey in Odissi, his association with his guru, Bichitrananda Swain, his obsession with honing his craft and his aspirations for the future.
Transcribed by Ayesha Susan Thomas.
Orissa Dance Academy
The situation was that i was in the ninth or tenth standard and I used to go to him for tuitions. How I got interested was... he used to do drama, give direction... every year we used to do this play, and one year even I participated in it. I don't know what he saw in me, but he said to me, go learn this. So I said ok. This was what he wanted and advised, and I also liked the idea. So I said ok, I will go and learn.
My village is about 4 hours from here by road. So he [my brother] brought me here, and enrolled me at the Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya. We had to find me a place to stay, we didnt know anybody here and I was from the village. Where would I stay, what would I do... we had to figure this out. At the Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya there was a Guru (...) who was from our area. We searched for him.
By asking around we found his address. We went to his house and he helped us a lot. He said go and enter your name for the Orissa Dance Academy. This was run by Guru Gangadhar Pradhan and Guru Bichitrananda Swain, who was our Principal. So he said go there, you can live there, and they will teach you very well, while you continue college. In fact he took me to both of them and introduced me, as a boy from his area, and got me started at both the Dance Academy, and at Utkal...
Our lecturers included Vidyut Kumar Chowdhury, at the Sangeet Mahavidyalaya. I spent seven years there, and finished my Masters. But my main training was at the Dance Academy. Under Gurus like Bichitrananda Swain, Yudhishtir Nayak, Pabitra Kumar Pradhan, Manoranjan Pradhan, and of course Guru Gangadhar Pradhan. He would take most of the classes. The method, the techniques... the purity, these are things I learned only from them. From these Gurus. Slowly, slowly, the Gurus, I don't know... I think they started to appreciate my work and they liked it, and they showed me a lot of love. They looked for these little programmes in which I could participate, and enrolled me for them. I was also happy, I was pleasing them!
My brother, who had dropped me here, he was also happy that I was doing well. Gradually I progressed to take part in more and more programmes, with groups even. Every year there was an annual function, and I took part in that also. After 4 or 5 years of this, I also got the chance to do a solo programme. So I did that as well. In between what happened was that I had gained quite a bit of the Guru's attention, and I had the opportunity to continue with Guru Swain. He is the one who told me, you dance well-
-Whatever you want to do in the future, with your practice, whatever you need to do in this field, I will help you, I am with you. So at every point in my life since, he has helped me. Till now. In 2003, 2004 he opened 'Rudrakshya', our institute. He is now a senior dancer, teacher, and secretary also. He is always with me, and now with regard to all his pieces, he takes me and does choreography accordingly.
RD: So can you tell us a little about him? How does he prepare pieces?
LP: Actually what he is working on is exploring dance to suit the male body. He is the first person to think about this project. The situation some six, seven years ago, was that men doing dance was not a popular idea in society. Bichi sir also wanted to be a dancer, but he wasn't able to do so. So he started thinking about taking his students and doing something... changing the way people thought about and perceived men dancing. He wanted to change the audience's minds. Today the practice is that people go to watch the female dancers, they think and talk abnd write about them. He wanted to work with the male form, and explore what was possible there.
He started to think about and work with male dancers, with the idea that I will change this perception among people, since there is a lot that is there in the body and dance of the male dancer. So he started thinking and working on this and is probably the first to do so. How to use a tala and variations of that tala, see how it matches the male body... he has done a lot of very good work there.
For me...(?). The way he sees it, Music, Rhythm, and the dancer's body - especially a male dancer's body - must come together, and see what kind of movement would suit this body. This he thinks a lot about. Actually Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra ji has also trained him, and Guru Swain feels that he has given us so much, from this we can carry forward and create so much more. New movement, new footwork, essentially taking off from all that Guruji has give us, how we can now do something else.
We do something new, different. This is how he thinks, and this is why his career has also been diffrent from all of ours.
RD: What about your own choreography, is there anything in partucular that you think about and use...
LP: I actually started when I was at the Dance Academy. Remember I mentioned the Annual Function, every year? I was also quite young, it must be at least five or six years ago. I created my own composition with a group of little children- Lav and Kusha. That was the first composition I ever did. After coming here, I still take part in annual functions, so I end up doing at least one composition a year.
I just recently completed Gangavataran, which is about the river Ganga. She was not always earthly, but used to be a heavenly river. So the story of how she came down, why she came... on this idea I created a group composition. I've also done a pallavi -
RD: Which pallavi?
LP: Raga Jhinjhoti. ... with the music composition of Guru Sachikanta Nayak(?).
RD: You've done a lot of solo work and group productions. Could you tell us about the differences in working with the two.
LP: When we perform with the group, six to seven dancers are there, and one needs to synchronize them. Then there are differences in performance level, and in level of energy. Also involveness (sic). One has to keep all this in mind and then work. Some are senior, some are junior in our group, since I am the eldest and the seniormost dancer, I have to see them and then temper my energy accordingly. Based on how they are performing also, I dance accordingly.
But what happens with solo dancing is I try to be involved in it, totally and completely. What is the character of the abhinaya, what is the situation that the character is respoding to. Since the group is not there it is easier to do. But in itself it is a difficult thing to do.
RD: What about duets? You've been doing duets with your wife. You recently got married.... you've worked with her for so many years. She was part of Rudrakshya so... how is it to work with her?
LP: Actually she's a very good dancer. Her body is more flexible than mine. So sometimes I tell her, control your body a little. Because she moves very fast. She has been here for a long time but we have not done that many performances together. Just recently at the Mukteshwar Dance Festival, was the first time we... actually we have danced together in the past also but not that much. This was a very good festival. We had to work very hard. We had to match each other - her body, my body, we had to be in sync.
Along with the music, the rhythm, the story. So a lot of concentration and focus was required.
RD: There is a lot of focus on male dancers at Rudrakshya. So how do you train the female dancers who come there?
LP: Guruji also says, that the training is the same. Since the male bodies are sometimes a little more stiff, they have to do more exercises, use more techniques. The Odissi training imparted to both boys and girls is the same, but even though the movement for both is the same, the instruction to boys is not to do the same movement in the same way that a way a girl does it. Like in a pallavi, the girl and boy do the same movement, but while it suits the girl it seems odd when seen in the frame of a boy. So Guruji pays attention to this. For example, both will do the same stance and same gesture, but Guruji will temper the expression on the boys face so it suits better.
Also girls these days think that if you are learning Odissi, you have to be very feminine, you have to be like a woman etc etc, but that is not the way it is. The technique is the same, but it depends on how you present it.
RD: For men, does it matter, is it any difference if you come from a Gotipua background? In how they understand this?
LP: They do understand it better. Because I have also heard, Guruji also says, and I have read in books, that Odissi is the refined form of Gotipua. It is the same walk and all that... but the way we learned with Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra was that there were very specific rules. Rules that governed the extent and position of a movement, the exact stance for chouk, the height of a hand gesture... very like the precise lines and formulas in Geometry for example. Things like that.
But with the Gotipuas, this does not apply so much. He knows the precise form of the movement, but the rules are not so strict. So he needs to practice to get it. But what the Gotipua learns first and brings to Odissi helps him a lot because he finds Odissi easier. He picks up faster. He already knows about tala, chouk, and expressions. He has already danced to many of the songs. So it is really easy for them. I think this answers your question.
RD: Finally I want to ask you, in the Odissi field, whose work do you like and why? Whose work do you find interesting? Who do you like to watch?
LP: Actually, of course first I'll go with Bichi sir, I'll always go with him. I love his programmes. Because whatever he does he brings innovation in, he thinks of something new. And he goes to the depth of it. I am not saying that nobody else is doing good work. Sometimes you like it, but the story and the movements do not match, or the expressions do not match, or the depth is missing...
RD: But talking about others, apart from Rudrakshya!
LP: Yes, yes, but that first! You see...I like...Sharmila Biswas' choregraphy.
RD: Can you tell us why -
LP: She also thinks a lot and works. Whatever topic they choose, they choose well, and their choreography, their syncronizaion is good... and also Madhavi ji, Madhavi Mudgal, I like her choreography also.
RD: Do you feel that increasingly in India, it is said that Odissi needs to be in a certain langage - in Oriya or Sanskrit... you find a lot of peolpe talking about what Odissi should be. As a dancer who has danced Odissi for so many years, how do you feel about that? What is Odissi to you, and if someone asked you what it was, how would you define it - as a dancer.
LP: As a dancer... for me... I don't do anything except Odissi. Even when I am doing other things, my mind is always on Odissi, on what I need to practice, how to better it, what new choreography to work on, how to present it with Bichi Sir... I am reading (...) right now, I love what he has written so much that I feel like doing it in each piece. That is what is in my mind right now. Now I have started thinking about this. Recently what I danced with Sanjukta at the Mukteshwar Dance Festival, Bhavani Bhujanga Stotra, is such a lovely choreography - that is what I am preoccupied with thinking about now. Which is why when you ask me about Odissi.. this is what I think about, how to do better, how long can I do this, what new choreography to use...
RD: Is there anything else you want to add?
LP: What to say? That way there is a lot to say!
RD: If there is something, then please say..
LP: No just this... that there is a lot of work I want to do, with Guruji. This is my desire. An archive needs to be made for Rudrakshya, so that everybody can see Guruji's choreography. And in Odissi, to do as much choreography as possible , that is the effort. Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra has shown us the path, and now we must see how to follow it and take it forward. It is our duty to take this tradition and see how we can take it ahead.