Sharmila Biswas’ ‘Sutra’ unravels the historical past of Odissi

From Sharmila Biswas’ ‘Sutra’

From Sharmila Biswas’ ‘Sutra’
| Photograph Credit score: Particular Association

Whereas watching Odissi exponent Sharmila Biswas’ ‘Sutra’ lately in Kolkata, there have been a number of questions that arose in my thoughts. Questions on historical past. Historical past of dance. Illustration of that historical past. Methods of showcasing historical past. Is historical past solely to be contained in textbooks? Is the textbook one of the best ways to disseminate performing arts histories or these histories deserve a unique form of presentation? Performances may have a wider attain in spite of everything. And what should you may be taught concerning the historical past of the artwork type via the artwork type itself whereas watching it stay? Might that quantity to a extra natural and in some methods rigorous engagement with an artwork type? Will this assist to create higher knowledgeable viewers and rasikas thereby benefiting the artwork type in a method? These have been the questions that I contemplated whereas and after watching ‘Sutra’. which unravels the historical past of the Odissi dance type.

It’s identified to all that any historical past would privilege sure tales, accounts, details over others. This has additionally led to contested histories or a number of histories of an incidence. Just lately, within the sphere of Dance Research, these contested histories have birthed a number of debates vis a vis origin theories of classical dance types. Whereas these variations will stay and these discussions vital, it’s the artists’ prerogative to decide on a retelling of the previous that they’re ideologically and aesthetically aligned with after which probe the identical via their presentation.

Intensive analysis

Experimentation in dance will not be solely restricted to its formal elements but in addition the tales that the dance chooses to inform and the way. Such was Sharmila Biswas’ try whereas conceptualising ‘Sutra’ based mostly on her artwork follow and in depth analysis into the histories of Odissi. ‘Sutra’ like all works participating with the previous is subsequently an interpretation or studying of the previous as provided by a training artiste for whom Odissi is not only a analysis topic however her whole life so to talk. Analysis thus borrows and likewise enriches from expertise. The act of dancing by itself is an archive. The stay efficiency remodeled into an archive comprising tales from the previous as retrieved within the current.

Difficult for a choreographer

‘Sutra’ acknowledges numerous origin sources of Odissi dance — mythological, spiritual, tribal, martial, affiliations with Buddhism, Jainism, Hindu temple sculptures, state patronage, and Gotipua. Whereas this historical past is pretty well-established and accessible within the public area for consumption, the most important problem for a choreographer is to not make it didactic. That’s the place the artistic excellence of a choreographer lies. Sharmila makes this historical past moderately accessible even for the uninitiated via a voiceover that accompanies or precedes the dance. The voiceover in some ways helps to observe the choreography and the chronology of occasions offered on stage. The actions are easy, unadorned involving a staff of fastidiously chosen younger dancers. The music is measured, nuanced, and by no means overpowering. The visuals created via dance accentuating each motion and music. Additional, the choreography clearly illustrates that the creation of the classical is influenced or impacted by numerous different types typically known as people or rural dances. The classical is subsequently an assimilation of assorted sources and influences. The colonial and now archaic debate of people versus classical is rightfully addressed or hinted at however not in a sloganeering method. For those who come to consider it, it is a dissenting historical past too.

I’ve a small recommendation or request for Sharmila and her staff to contemplate. What about Odissi in up to date instances? Can the current stay untouched by the previous? What’s the story of the dance type at this time? Are there new traits and undercurrents or challenges? Could also be she would do one other manufacturing to mirror on these or maybe reply by saying that ‘Sutra’ itself displays Odissi in its contemporariness — the choreography, gentle design, music choice, costumes, general aesthetics — every part collectively.

In her opening remarks earlier than the efficiency, Sharmila talked about that ‘Sutra’ additionally embodies the search that gave her an identification as a dancer, a metropolis dancer embracing and thus making an attempt to know the agricultural whereas tracing the roots of her dance. A member from the viewers quizzically requested however what about spirituality? She calmly stated — why don’t you watch and discover out?

(Kunal Ray writes about artwork and tradition in India. He teaches literary and cultural research at FLAME College, Pune)

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