Interview: Sharmila Biswas
Cinematographer: Ranjana Dave
Duration: 00:59:55; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 70.254; Saturation: 0.171; Lightness: 0.093; Volume: 0.341; Cuts per Minute: 0.050; Words per Minute: 116.100
Summary: Sharmila Biswas is an Odissi dancer and choreographer. Trained by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, she has learnt the art of abhinaya from Shrimati Kalanidhi Narayanan. Sharmila has undertaken extensive research on the ancient Mahari dancers – the temple dancers of Orissa. Currently, she is imparting training to young dancers at the Odissi Vision and Movement Centre, Kolkata. Sharmila has received various awards and honours for her work, including the Uday Shankar Award for Best Choreography in 1998 from the Department of Information and Broadcasting, Government of West Bengal. She has also been awarded fellowships by the Department of Culture, Government of India, and Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.
At an early age, Biswas' dance talents were recognised after she threw a sizeable tantrum at a family function, insisting that she be allowed to dance with the older children. She was sent to Children's Little Theatre, where she received training in several dance styles and creative thinking. In her teens, she was exposed to Odissi at CLT and decided that it was her preferred form of expression. Biswas' performance work is highly research-oriented. She finds inspiration in the regional performance traditions of Orissa. In this interview with Ranjana Dave, recorded at the Odissi Vision and Movement Centre, she speaks about her journey in dance, her recent work, artistic preoccupations and views on issues that concern the Odissi dance scene.
Transcribed by Mansi Jhingran
Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra gharana
Odissi Vision and Movement Centre
Ranjana Dave (RD): So, I mean, you could just, start.
Sharmila Biswas (SB): No but I feel it will be better if you ask, I mean...
RD: Ok. So if you could just start by telling us about when you started learning dance, what made you choose Odissi, if there was such a decision, and about your learning experiences over the years?
SB: Actually about dance, you know, I started when I was very small, less than 6 years. My aunt and I, my sister and my aunts and my cousins. There were 5 of us, girls. There were several years when we were together. Staying together in the same house. And those days it was this thing that we come from Brahmo families, so it was usually in the evening, that means after the play hours - it was a time when everybody would sit for a short half-hour session of singing - Brahmo Sangeet, Rabindra Sangeet, before we started studying.
And it was also part of our thing that we, five of us maybe with some neighbour children, we would get together to celebrate Saraswati Puja or any other occasion with dance and music which we would compose. And I would always be, like, behind, because I would be too small. And the older cousins, they would be participating and it was always a problem for me. And I remember in one of these shows I was not given any role. I threw such a tantrum that one of the aunts I think, said, "Okay, you dance whatever you want to." I don't remember who sang or if there was any song at all, but I danced in any case. And seeing the movements they thought that - okay, she understands movement - otherwise I was pretty quiet. I mean, I was not a very talkative kind of child. That was one and then later maybe when I was about, earlier I was about 5, but when I was around 7 and I was staying with my aunt in Calcutta. Those days all Bengali children, even now I supppose, they would learn singing and dancing.
So I was really lucky that my aunt too me took me to CLT - Children's Little Theatre in Dhakuria, and admitted me there. See, the approach of CLT is that all children must learn dance, music, theatre, roller skate, or any teacher he would find, who would be visiting Calcutta, knowing any craft, would be invited, and we would have a short workshop. So he had a very open approach and he said that the decision to choose dance, if you choose it at all, should come from you, not from your mother. Your mother likes Kathak so you learn Kathak, that's the way it works. So every one or two years we would be learning one classical dance and many folk dances. Like that it would continue till 14 or so. And then you choose. By that time, a child knew pretty much what she wanted to do. And most children left dance in any case, you know, after class..., I mean after sixteen or so. But they left CLT with a pretty good idea so they actually became very good rasikas, let's say, later on in life. For me, Odissi was not at all known in those days. There was one show of Sanjukta Panigrahi which was absolutely mesmerising. I mean very close, it happened very close, and then there was a teacher I think within a month, around that time. I don't remember before or after, could be before also...
Children's Little Theatre
RD: This was in the late 60s or early 70s?
SB: No. This was in the early 70s.
RD: Early 70s.
SB: I remember I was about, I think 13 or 14, something like that. So Guru Muralidhar Majhi, he came to Calcutta from Orissa and he showed what he said Odissi was - it was Saraswati Vandana, very simple - and I knew, this is it. This is for me. I could not explain at that point why I fell in love with that. I feel now that because that was the only classical dance which I felt was very close to my heart. I could understand the language. You know Orissa and Bengal they're close, you know, culturally close, probably that. I don't know, whatever the reason is I was attracted to Odissi and I started learning Odissi, slowly I moved towards Odissi but my background in CLT really helped later. Then I saw Guruji's workshop. That was in the 80s, early 80s. And I thought this is the system of Odissi which will give me a good training, good foundation, so I joined.
RD: What was your experience of learning with him because, I mean, he kept, I think it is very well known that he kept composing through his life so I think almost all his disciples have a very clear understanding of his creative process. Or have at least been exposed to it a lot.
SB: See, most of his major compositions were already done. I think in the 70s or so, about, by early 80s most of his basic compositions was already done. But that's not the issue. The thing is that, I'll tell you how I started. My experience is that I simply walked into his class which used to come to Calcutta in CLT, sorry, Padatik. So I simply walked into his class and said that I'm your new student. And he was preoccupied teaching his son mardala
, some piece and he just indicated with his eyebrows that go and join the group. And I joined and started dancing. So there was no ceremony or no big thing, no introduction and all that. And for a few days after that I was just there, I mean, I thought I didn't exist also. I mean, he didn't even notice that I was there. Then I think after 5-6 days, in the lunch break, he called me to his room where Guruji-Guruma both were sitting and the way he started asking me about my life, my dance and everything, I was amazed and I realised how deeply he cared for his students.
And he was so much interested, not in me specifically, but all his students. So that was the starting, and then I realised that I didn't want to learn from him only when he comes to Calcutta for workshops. So I packed my things and went to Cuttack to his house to learn. That was also very simple and without any ceremony and again I became a part of the routine you know classes or whatever some workshops. And sometimes he would travel to have workshop in either Calcutta or Bombay. I would be traveling with him. Those years, about 2 years, were very very good as far as training is concerned because not only did I learn the items but I also learnt his approach to work, composition and how to lead the life of an artist, which is very important, the simple and uncluttered life. Which, you know, in fact really helped me when I started my career - how to live life simply and work happily.
So that was my experience with training and as far as Guruji's composition (goes), I want to say something - that he was ever-evolving. For him no dance was - okay, I've created this dance so I'm framing it, that's it! Each time he took that dance up to compose he would revisit; not that he would change. Keeping the basic structure, he would work on the details and go deeper and deeper into the details of those dances which is very interesting because later on when I started composing, I felt that certain details should be changing so every time a dancer dances she rediscovers the dance. If the tentativeness or the approach of rediscovering is not there every time you're dancing then it becomes very easily mechanical and if it becomes mechanical for me then it'll be mechanical for the audience as well. So that's one of the few things I really learnt - many things I learned from him but this is important.
RD: When did you get interested in the folk practices of Orissa and start your research?
SB: See, many, I'm sure many people would go to Guruji to learn items which were very attractive and straight you get to stage and if you have a good dancer's ability people would appreciate it. But I don't know, even when I was really young, I mean, in my 20s, I always wanted to go deeper and see what is happening to dance, how dance happens actually. And Guruji, if you study Guruji's life, so many art forms he studied and then created. He would see things surround him with his eyes and he would kind of digest and assimilate and bring out something in totally Odissi. And I felt that if I have to evolve Odissi dance, it has to be from the ground of Orissa, from that culture. I cannot impose, however beautiful something is. So I was very interested and my Bachelor's degree is in Anthropology. I was also interested in that subject a lot. That helped me, you know, when I started studying I knew the methodology and I was interested and gradually I started.
My first work was on the Odissi mridanga. With financial assistance from Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, there in my journey started research-oriented or study-oriented work. Research is such a big term. I don't know, so that is study, I'm a student all my life. So I started with that.
RD: Was this the - I may be confusing it - but was this the piece that's part of the Doordarshan CD?
SB: I think in Doordarshan there's a piece of that.
RD: Of this?
SB: Yes, I think what you saw there was a trio or something like that or a solo?
RD: I think there were two male dancers and 2 or 3 women.
SB: I don't know now.
RD: I remember it because there was, I mean...
SB: See, there were various versions and at various stages I would take various pieces which I collected and improved upon for my dance, revised I would say. Because you can't improve them. They're already in their best - I mean what we do is we take them and use it for Odissi. We improvise for Odissi. So there would be many versions and right now I have one piece, I call it moorchana
. That's a group piece.
RD: I think this is the one that I saw.
SB: Could be.
RD: So what I wanted to ask you was - I know that it's perhaps very hard to articulate - how do you make that from...I mean from the...from what you see to what the dance becomes?
SB: From what I see to the dance. It's not very hard to articulate if you know the methodology. Of course there can be many approaches. You know my methodology is like that. It could be a little boring but for me it works. It's not boring for me. I, generally I go and first of all I have to identify, you know, roughly, the artists I would like to start working with. That's the starting point. In the beginning I may identify through suggestions from various sources that these are the people. So I started my mrudanga with Dhanurdhar Reddy, then Prahlad Baral and so many others came later on. So I go to them and I spent - I do not go there with a camera and pen and all that. Those days, I used to be alone. And there was hardly any equipment. Most of my most precious studies are all in my mind and some in my notes. But I hardly have any documentation. Nowadays...(?) because we lose precious things.
But my approach still was whether I go with a camera or not, that I let the person speak. And I do not give too many directions - this way, I want this - whatever. But sometimes it is needed. For mrudanga I say - how do you start teaching, what are the basic teaching tools? And - achcha, what are the festivals in which you - what are the things you love? Sometimes they run off the theme (?), then I say that - what is the most beautiful piece which you love to play? Sometimes it opens. Then I talk about their gurus, what they do in actual life which is very interesting and how - is it their profession? Or if it is not what about the rest of the day, what do they do?" And many interesting observations come out from there. And many interesting stories. I also listen to the stories which they love, mythological stories and there's always their interpretation. All those come into my dance. So basically there's lots and lots of things. And then when I come back, and it could be like this, it could be movement-oriented also, suppose it is, say, sanchar
where they also, it's a kind of mrudanga. They use movements also. So there are - I then see the film, and see the movements and then I give numbers. Movement number one...I make an entire catalogue. And then from there I evolve movements, if it is movement-oriented. If it is rhythm-oriented, pieces of rhythm, I sit alone sometimes, many times and then with my Mardala player and we evolve from the material we get. We evolve from the text we get. Sahitya. We evolve even from the costumes, the way they would drape something.
For mahari, I'll tell you, people always write about me that I have learnt mahari dances from the last two living maharis. But thats not the truth. The truth is that I have been very close at one time to these two maharis. I spent a lot of time with them. Those maharis have never performed in Puri. By the time they came into existence there was not much dance and the degradation had happened from many many years. So they, it's true that they knew some dances but they had forgotten also. It's not an item or piece they know, just certain movements and like that. But what I learnt not only from them but other artists and people, local people of Puri is how the system in the temple works, what is the life and the work of the Maharis, how they conducted themselves. And therefore the dance. So it's not dance first, it was their lifestyle first. That helped me not to reconstruct what I, in my mind think is the Mahari dance. No one knows, you know, many years back in the 12th century, how they danced. Or whether it evolved and with a lot of grammar at some point when Ray Ramananda was teaching them in Sri Chaitanya's time. We don't know. So my approach to research is like that. Each project is different and also it is not like - last time, that was a brief, this thing, but there's a form called Prahlad Natak in South Orissa. So if you see it that is a very spectacular form. Stages are divided into levels and you know, there's basically a very theatrical form. There are dialogues and song and rhythm. That's what people see. But what I saw in them was very different; I saw them in the classroom, not in the performance mode, sitting and showing and rehearsing and like that. What I saw was the way the music and the movements and the dialogues would intermingle. And each of them sitting there, there was no separation - that each of them knew what's happening to the other. If a singer stops singing, the mardala player would take up that line. And the performer would sit and play something, like that. So that wholesome approach made me compose a dance called trikai
which if you see Prahlad Nataka and my dance they look very different. If I say i've been infuenced by that people won't know what I'm talking about.
Generally people see cut and paste, that, okay, this is this. Always cut and paste doesn't happen when you're doing research (sic). The end product can be very different.
RD: This was all in the south of Orissa? The mrudanga...
SB: No, no, no. The Odissi mrudanga I started, like, Dhanurdhar Reddy. He was in the south, Behrampur. But mrudanga is not restricted to south. There are different styles - Pala mrudanga which I learnt from this person called Neka and Rabi. They were close to Cuttack.That area. Then there is mrudanga, totally different - Prahlad Baral. He's near Puri. His style is different. Ranihati style. And then there is Sanchar Mridanga. Sanchar and Samprada. That's in Western Orissa. So I studied, means I saw, and studied, whatever, all.
RD: I would like you to talk about some of your compositions, maybe I can start by what I see in them especially like in Avartan-Vivartan the whole...that is the one you did as part of the Tagore production also?
SB: Ya. You have seen that Tagore?
RD: I've seen that and I've also seen the piece in Orissa. I mean that element of certain play that you bring into.
SB: Yeah, there are a lot of common things. You see, I'm glad you asked about it. There's a certain kind of fluidity which happens. When we are composing there are disciplines. There's also fluidity, you see. I'll tell you something, how these two happened. They happened together. They happened with a workshop in Madhavi Mudgal's Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. She wanted to get the gurus together, the mardala gurus, and kind of decide on - okay, tala. The system of tala, because there are digressions. People have different approaches and most of the time, even in Bhubaneswar - I suppose it happens eveywhere, they don't meet, enough, in that kind of an intimate way to decide. Everybody is in their own island.
So she said, look, it's very confusing for the dancers as well. So we have to sit and decide and make us understand." So there the journey started. The tala system - we all know a few common talas on which the music is based, but Madhavi and many of us felt that we don't know enough about the technique. We have to go deeper. People talk about many many talas, thousands. But what are the common talas and what are the uncommon ones and so many other questions. So we did, I think we discussed 12 talas. Some we practice, some we don't. They're there in the theory; it's a possibility. But the tala can only be said - okay, this is a tala, it can only exist when it exists in compositions. And many compositions. Songs are composed based on that, bols
are composed, dance is composed, you know, so many things.
Then it really exists; otherwise just the number of beats and all these features don't make any sense. So when I came I thought how would I kind of take it forward. So what I did was instead of getting all the gurus together, because there's always some kind of constraint. First of all it's very difficult to get them together. Everybody has a different time. And since everybody's approach is different I think it kind of cramps their style. I was interested to know each of them, how they think, in detail. So I went to Guru Banamali Maharana, Guru Haramohan Khuntia and Guru Dhaneswar Swain. They were the three main people who are actually doing a lot of work like this and individually worked. And they helped me to create bol
pieces on each of these 12 talas. I said, at least one bol
, even the uncommon ones, let me have just one bol
. While it was almost ready I didn't know what I would do, be doing with them. But that's the time when somebody told me about, that I've to do a piece on Tagore. See I've never really worked on it, that's not my subject.
And suddenly as an Odissi dancer I jump into Tagore and create something, I feel it becomes very superficial. And these works are always time-bound although I had about six months, which is really great, you know, to work on that. But then when you have no plan suddenly if it's in six months what do you do? So I said I have to connect it with what I'm thinking now. So I decided to read about his approach to tala; Tagore's approach to tala. And I found it very interesting that he said that the talas, basically the talas are not made by human beings, its a universal rhythm. The planets rotate in a certain way. The leaves wave with certain timing; everything is timed, like even the breeze is blowing - it has its own laya. So this is the laya from which we ultimately - there is a laya - you see the nature and start moving in that laya. We cannot be betala
in our universe. And then that comes to human beings. Laya is there in animals too, as they move, as they jump around. But human beings being human beings we kind of stylise it, improvise it, elaborate it and it becomes grammar in classical dance and that's what we call classisicm. And then they're kind of structured.
But since the tala is essentially something the vidhata has created no amount of structuring can bind it. The more you bind it, more possibilities come out from the grammar. Which is so very true. So with that philosophy I said, okay, let's do this - that we have this Odissi tala, say, in 14 beats. What is the closest root? Not only in number of beats but in expression. In Hindustani tala and Carnatic and Rabindrik. So it became like that. So it went like that, all four things together. So we took bits and pieces of Tagore's song, not for the content of the song; of course the tala and content they kind of influence each other, they have to influence each other. But it went like one flow, what you saw. But that was it and that I found very productive in my growth. Then I did arasas which came out of the same research, same pool, came Avartan- Vivartan. Avartan you know is, (demonstrates) this motion and Vivartan means the changes in evolution. So that I did as an Odissi production and it started with, if you remember, it started with children playing games when they come out of school. My idea is you come out of grammar. School is this, you know, stucture and you are kind of very tight. And then come out of the school and start playing in the streets and the rhythm of that started that and then again you go back to, from that freedom you go back to the rhythms. It was very playful throughout and it was dealing with tala but I didn’t want to make it dry grammar where only people who understand the beats will say - okay, that’s correct. No. I wanted to keep it very playful and I was very concerned about the expression of each tala we've used.
RD: I want to ask you about Shiva-Parvati Shabda because that's a choreography I've seen in many versions and I've seen it live many times and I think it's something that has made a great impact on me for how you use rhythm in it.
SB: Actually I'll tell you something, I really like that piece because of its simplicity. It's very direct. Musically it is...you see, when it started like this, it's not that I wanted to create something on Shiva-Parvati. Nothing. It was, I wanted to, I always believed that...can we stop for a minute?
(Break in recording)
I personally believe that movement in its purest form has no gender actually. Movements are movements. And then certain expressions give them the qualities you require. We as dancers need to learn the movements in those basic and purest forms. Unless we do that, if you approach dance like - okay, I'm good at Radha then I become Radha throughout my life. You know. So with that approach I wanted to see how the male and the female movements are together. My thing was it was basically always a solo dance. Essentially. Whether I did it later on with groups, I see it as a solo form. So when we sat for composition with Pt. Ramahari Das we were thinking what kind of bandish, what kind of music to give it. I wanted to make it very simple. It should belong to the batu category of dance in our repertoire. So after many discussions one tune kept coming back to me. It was the Shabda Nritya performed by the Shabdanritya dancers in Western Orissa in Kumhari. It exists now only in Kumhari village.
So that was tam-thei-taka-taka-thei, taka-ta-thei-nda-thei
. It's like that. And I kind of sang, I mean, croaked, in my voice - the way I'm doing it. From there, Ramahari sir did tam-thei-taka-thei taka-ta-thei-nda-thei, tam-thei-taka-thei taka-ta-thei-nda-thei
But the way they sing, it's very different, it's very folksy and all. So this is the way it started; the dance started. And I composed the dance more simply. And I took 'shabda', the phrases, not from them, they have similar shabda but I realised shabda could be any phrase which is suitable and you have to speak in that style. Not necessarily that shabdanritya, they use that shabda so you use that shabda even if it is gramatically incorrect; no, I don't work like that. If necessary sometimes I ask people to rewrite for me - the text. When I get from the traditional ones which I like, very good. But in this case Ramahari Sir found most of the verses from his collection.
RD: Actually, I want to digress here. You said something about gender...
SB - Gender?
RD: And also because increasingly there are other choreographers who look at Odissi specifically, who see it through the lens of making it maybe a style for men or a style for women. So what is your response to that?
SB: See I'll tell you something, all this is very - so maybe because of my Anthropology background I understand it better. See, the thing is dance takes shape according to the history, what the requirement of the society and the history is. Everybody knows many of these forms - Bharatnatyam, Odissi - they were practiced for a long time in the temples. And they were practiced by Gotipua dancers who were dressed again like girls because the society demanded it. So the womanly qualities of the dance will always come into forefront. So that, infact unfortunately that has given dance this thing, name, that classical dance, Odissi specially, is only for girls. That is not actually correct. But then it is true that in my class I don't have any male student.
But there are male students in Odissi. I'm sure you have seen many and all that but that again has another history because many of the male students in Odissi, many, not all, they come from Gotipua background. They were gotipuas and for them it's a gradual, a natural kind of thing after an age. But see, in most of the cities you'll see that male dancers are much less. Of course another thing is males are even now considered bread winners. So it becomes a very very, almost an impossible career choice for a man even to start dancing. A girl maybe till her marriage, maybe till she's settled after her marriage to some extent. This is again our society which is moving it towards a more girly thing. It is not at all (like that). In fact, males, with their muscle power, if you look at the technique of the dance, they have a distinct advantage.
RD: Coming back to the evolution of that piece.
SB: Oh. So that's the way the dance happened and I did it as a solo many times. Then my students did it as a solo and then I had a version where five of us were doing - two males and three females. Then I had two duets happening. But the soul of the dance was like that. That's it.
RD: I have a question about Pallavis. I want to discuss two actually - one, I think, Charukeshi pallavi, the one you composed without percussion and secondly, I've heard that you are working on a pallavi with Kumudini Lakhia?
SB: See as far as Charukeshi is concerned there came a time, I was really very interested in the traditional rhythms, percussions. So I worked on the mrudanga. I worked on, also studied all these Sambalpuri folk drums and all that. But there came a time in my life when I said - what about the melody? What about the music? That interested me. And I also was interested in the improvisation, just not the set composed pieces of songs but the improvisation, how the alaps and how it happens. How music evolves and then how dance evolves with it. What is the connection or the relationship between the dancer and the melody? With that, I started Charukeshi.
Charukeshi was very interesting. I didn't think it would be Charukeshi. I actually started with, you know, these basic questions - how, what, this and that. I had a very beautiful meeting, a few in fact, with Pt. Raghunath Panigrahi. More than the actual composition, I loved the discussions. When they talk about music, the singer, musicians. I learnt a lot more. He once said that you know in my place in Gunupur in south of Orissa I used to hear my father in the evenings singing Charukeshi. And I used to feel after a point, that, there would be hillocks around the village, and the house in the evening, you know, sunset. And after sometime I used to feel that everything is shivering, the leaves, the air, there'a a slight shiver which you can hardly see. But it was there. That's what he felt. "And I felt that there was one woman who with her unseeing blind eyes would be moving, and her eyes were completely turned inwards." And with that the discussion ended.
And then we went to the composition and all that, anyway. Then finally when the composition happened here in Calcutta with Debashish Sarkar, then Ramesh Dash and Vijay Barik, then this image played a very big role. I approached it almost like a story where this note of Charukeshi raga would almost be like a beloved around me and I'm following it. And wherever it takes me I'm going. So that was Charukeshi and I did not feel the necessity of rhythm from the beginning. I did use rhythm but I let the melody first set the rhythm for it. And I got into that rhythm and melody and then there was gini, manjira, throughout. That's one of the most peaceful dances. And then rhythm comes much later. But it doesn't rise to a crescendo and big rhythmic finale and all that. And when I created it I used to think that in such a dance where I'm so much looking inwards how people will be because most of our dances are very outward. I mean we are giving it to people and directly communicating. And it's not a dance, I understand that it's not a dance which I can teach the entire class. It's a dance, you have to do it with understanding or don't do it at all. But when I performed I realised that if you are concentrating while you're performing it does reach people. And there are instances when Charukeshi has not been liked and there are instances when Charukeshi has been loved. And Charukeshi needs a certain environment. You can't have a carnival going on and do Charukeshi.
RD: And the pallavi that you're working on?
SB: Trikai. That you see - it is not true that this is a pallavi on which I was working with Kumudini Lakhia. No. As I told you when I was influenced by the Prahlad Nataka, that was the beginning. That was when the Trikai idea kind of started - ok this is the way a dancer also can interact. Doesn't have to be watertight where the musicians are only concerned about the script. They don't even know whether the dancer is on stage or gone. Almost like that situation. And it is increasing more and more with the use of recorded music which takes a lot out of the dance unfortunately. It has given us certain advantages but the soul of the dance I'm afraid...anyway. So I went to Kumudini ji to see what is her approach towards movement, expressions of movement. Nobody does movements randomly. And most of all Kumudini ji. In that I feel all dancers, whether it is Kumudini ji or some modern dancer sitting somewhere in the world, those who are approaching dance with seriousness and intent and work many years, they approach something concrete and they have a lot of common links. So I went to Kumudini ji with that. So it was again absorbing a great mind; how it works in terms of movements. That is it.
But then i created Trikai. Trikai, here again I approach dance, music, the melody and the rhythm as three different entities; three sitting in different rooms. Not aware of each other. Like in the same neighborhood you are in three houses, and slowly they become aware of each other and come together. Sometimes it happens that you're sitting in one room and somebody's sitting in another room, you become aware of each other and you respond to each other even without coming eye-to-eye, contact. Then you come, you take one step forward, he takes one step forward, then you come together in the same space and create. And there is no fixed path. And then again towards the end you go back to your own little things. That was my approach to Trikai. It's still evolving; I feel for me, it takes at least two years for a dance to evolve. But what I really didn't want to compromise here which is different from other dances, is, for many parts I set the singer free - that you sing, you do your alap as long as you want or you take a phrase and come to completion, don't think you have to do so many avartans because you're here and all that. So there's a lot of freedom for both me, for the singer and the rhythm player. I wanted to keep that independence, I wanted to keep that entity. And I tell you people think that dance cannot happen without rhythm and all that. True. But it is not true also because I have seen dancers, I have seen children dancing; there's no music, they're not dancing to a music, a music which is from outside, an audio. They're dancing to their inner rhythm.
That also should play a big part in this dance; the inner rhythm of the dancer, how she's dancing. And we do it all the time. We do it all the time. When a dancer comes alone and she's in the classroom in front of the mirror, or not in font of the mirror, she's trying out movements and this and that. There is a rhythm, there is a melody but she knows it, no one knows.
RD: We've come to the end of this. I'd like to ask you about - talk briefly about costume - maybe how you make costume decisions because you have some pretty interesting costumes.
SB: That's also an area. Actually I don't think there's an area in dance which I'll say that it doesn't interest me. When it comes to costume, I was very happy with that side pleat,the fan which we used to wear. But later on I felt that it looks too stitched. I always liked that draped unstitched look. But it had it's own problems. I also wanted to see especially - this costume thing came more when I started working with the mahari tradition. See I learnt from them, through many trials and errors how they would be wearing and why. In costumes, whys are very important because costume is with a purpose. And I loved the way they would show the draping of the saree and then on the saree they would wear a kind of a velvet jacket.
The thing is to define your upper body when you're dancing. But that jacket they would not be wearing when they're not dancing; they're dancing in an era(?) where the dance is not important. So I thought it was very interesting. And they had very interesting jewellery. Some of the ideas I use, you know like a panapankha(?) and all that. From there I learned and I feel that costume for any dance should be smelling of that dance and that dance only. And it has to be practical so that the technique shows the fullest. So I started. And once this experiment started with how to drape a costume, and then half-drape a costume, how to make it look like a draped costume, there are certain things inside for convenience, there was no end to it. I know that in Odissi the kachcha at the back is important. You cannot have a skirt-like dress; it doesn't go with the technique. So based on that simple principle I have done.
RD: And also your use of textiles, because sometimes you use - I mean, often the trend with dancers is to use very opulent fabrics and fancy silks but sometimes the material you've used for your costumes is - just very different choices, like plain...I remember this was I think in 2006 or '07, off-white material I think, some sort of light silk with a simple border.
SB: Actually I'll tell you something, this is also my, a lot of people, basically dancers, are facing this problem. The textile industry in Orissa or any state, they are going through a lot of problems because people's tastes are changing and everybody is seeing what's happening to the other state so there's a lot of borrowing and all that; a lot of imposition of styles without really understanding. Cut and paste job. So you have a saree now in Orissa where the temples are Manipuri, the pallu is Orissa and more often than not the cotton, if it's a cotton saree its so mercerised and of such a texture that it doesn't fall well. And the colours are also not the vegetable dye colours or the Orissa colours which suit it. It could be very bright colours. So it's a problem really to get a good saree. And my colour choices are always a little earthy. And people used to think that they don't look nice on screen but I still do experiments that many of the colours, it depends on what you're doing, how you're making the costume, the subdued and earthy colours look very dignified on stage. And that bright garish color, bright border with a bright body, you don't know which is the brightest, there's a competition as if. They look terrible I think. And the stitch where it looks obviously stitched, those costumes don't interest me at all. They look like a pajama and a few pleats stitched on one side. That's not tradition to my mind.
RD: Lastly, this is about what I've been noticing in Orissa lately. While your work is immersed in Orissan culture in a certain way, there's this increasing wave of thought that really tries to reduce Odissi to its connection with the Oriya language and a certain kind of movement. I mean there are people trying to define what Odissi is in a very narrow sense. At least I would feel so.
SB: Actually you know, the biggest tragedy with the dancers is that now we do not exist in a cultural, cushioned comfort that it comes to us automatically. We are not in a state where we are doing baramashe tero parbon(?). There are many festivals, from each festival we learn about our culture, so it comes naturally to us, it's not. Our educational system everything makes our dance classes...can we stop for a second?
(Break in recording)
Ideally speaking, a dancer should be aware of all the things - the music, the literature, everything to make a dance complete as a whole. But what is actually happening is we are getting dancers, who may be very serious dancers, committed dancers, but they're a product of dance classes which are only teaching them items. And maybe grammar also but not enough music or other things which make the journey complete. So when they are composing such narrowness would come because they're dependent on other people's views. When they want a song or something like that they're completely dependent on others. That is worrying and we need to think how to deal with that. It becomes a completely - say, if a dancer feels that there is something lacking it becomes that she has to do it herself. And that, even that realisation may come much later in life, not during your formative years when you're practising dance. So this is also something the dance teachers should think. And also I think talking in seminars and big (things), it never works. I think it's better that each teacher does her own bit in her own class.
RD: Thank you.