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Understanding Guru Kelucharan Mohapatras Choreography

Understanding Guru Kelucharan Mohapatras Choreography July 31, 2004 Rohini Dandavate As I reminisce the days of my training in Odissi dance, the image that comes flashing in front of my eyes is the classroom in Kala Vikash Kendra, reverberating with the sounds of Gurujis pakhawaj, the soft lilting music from Pundit Bhubaneshwar Mishras violin and the resounding voice of Shri Bala Krushna Das. As one of the younger students, I was asked to observe these three scholars composing and choreographing a dance drama. Many such observation sessions followed in the course of my training. As years rolled by, I had the privilege to learn innumerable dance numbers choreographed by Guruji and participate in the numerous dance dramas he choreographed on different occasions. These experiences provided me the windows of opportunity to observe Guruji conceptualize, formulate, create and communicate through the medium of Odissi dance. At Kala Vikash Kendra and in Gurujis home, our training in Odissi dance comprised of lessons in theory and practice but the emphasis was to emulate Gurujis technique. His teaching methods in essence followed the Guru Shishya parampara, where in the student lived with the guru, providing the opportunity for an in depth study. The shishya surrendered himself/herself to the guru. All learners, irrespective of their background, were equal under the constant supervision and tutelage of the guru. He planned lessons in pace with the students capacity to learn and patiently molded every student. A devoted teacher, he spent umpteen hours in helping his students develop the flow, flexibility, strength, vitality and grace in their performance. The relationship between Guruji and his student was akin to the resonance between an artist and his medium. Much like a potter or a painter molds or paints keeping in view the color, texture and the ease of the material he works with, Guruji composed keeping in view the persona of the dancer he worked with. The numerous Mangalacharans, Pallavis and Abhinayas composed with

dancers like Sanjukta Panigrahi, Kumkum Mohanty, his son Ratikant Mohapatra, to name a few, carry the signature characteristic of each one of them. For a trained eye it might be possible to recognize as whom the dance number was composed with. Many a times, while learning dance I was faced with many simple questions such as: Why a particular raag (melody) was chosen for the dance? How was the taal (rhythm) selected? Instead of seeking clarification, I chose to observe my class fellows and listen to the class discussions. However years later, when I took a class in improvisation and choreography in modern dance at MIT in Boston, I was able to relate this learning experience to my training in Odissi dance. It helped me to understand and analyze Gurujis choreographic process with a perspective that was free from the inhibitions and fear of questioning, which I grew up with. I was able to think about Gurujis choreography with a new set of questions, How did the dance relate to the theme and the rhythm? What is the relationship between movement, gesture, shape, structure and music? How is space defined and shaped by music and dance? How is form articulated? Is it translated from one to other or complemented? If it is complemented, how does the performance space, lighting, costumes, etc function in the synthesis? In the following paragraphs I have tried to recapitulate some of my reflections on Gurujis creative process. Gurujis creative expressions are like a sculptors intricately chiseled carvings. The movement ideas, the grace of the postures and refinement in the structure made every dance he created a unique work of art. His imaginative mind was always curious and open to experience something new. His ideas though rooted in tradition were projected in the most innovative manner. Odissi dance for a long time was mostly a solo presentation. It was Gurujis innovation when he introduced group formations and group presentations choreographed in the Odissi style. The photograph given below illustrates the image of goddess Durgha in a multidimensional approach. Gurujis inspiration for dance came from observing everything around him. He observed the gaits of people, the flight of the birds, the crawl of the insects, the walk of the animals, traffic jams, , the sway of trees and bushes even mundane activities like people stacking bags at railway stations. He looked for patterns in those movements and translated what he learned into graceful dance movements. During leisure he was often seen watching science fiction movies late into the nights. He would seek visual inspiration for his own choreographies from the creative use of forms and colors he found in these movies Form and structure Guruji had a strong mathematical intuition which is obvious in the basic framework of all of his choreographies. During his 75th birthday celebrations, Kum Kum Mohanty, one of the leading Odissi dancers, called Guruji a great mathematician. His work reflects a thorough understanding of the principles of form and structure in nature. Much like the borders he drew on the floor of his dance studio, Gurujis dance creations, were like well-written essays with a clear beginning,

middle and end. While preserving the integrity of this ancient dance form, Guruji molded and systemized simple feelings and random movements from everyday life and nature into sophisticated expressive movements. His organization and execution of balance, proportion, harmony, contrast, variety, transition, sequence and climax maintain the unity between meaning and the form of expression. For example, in Batu Nrutya, (a pure dance number in the Odissi repertoire) while he weaves together the numerous dance poses carved on the walls of the various temples of Orissa, he also lends his personal touch to the basic movement ideas, designs and phrases of Odissi dance. As one of the first numbers to learn in the Odissi repertoire, Batu Nritya enables the dancer to comprehend and grasp the flow and language of movement in Odissi dance. The definite structure and expressions complement the development of its content. Dance and Music Gurujis dance choreography generally followed a music driven process, in other words: Music was composed prior to his dance choreography and the musicians accompanied during the final performance. Using recorded music was not the norm. Music was composed and was recorded in most cases for reference purposes.

While Guruji was one of the architects of the contemporary Odissi form, Pundit Bhubaneshwar Mishra was the music composer of the Odissi repertoire. Mishrajis music composition and Gurujis dance choreography synthesized and yet maintained their own original imprint in the collaborative creation. It was a complementary relationship, where the music composition and dance choreography maintained a fine balance. Their collective creativity inspired and contextualized the dance movements. Susanne Langer, a leading philosopher, said, Nothing has an aesthetic existence without form. No dance can be called a work of art unless it has been deliberately planned and can be repeated. The music composition and Gurujis choreography of the numerous Pallavis, Mangalacharans and Abhinayas are meticulously planned and choreographed. Gurujis dance numbers are learned, taught and performed by generations of Odissi dancers. His students all over the world to this date emulate the incorporation of diverse

rhythms, tempos, moods, geometrical patterns and flowing structure. The present day Odissi repertoire reflects the artistic vision and dedication that Guruji and Mishraji shared. Form and content Dance was not the only creative expression for Guruji. Creativity permeated in every facet of his life. Day to day experiences caused him to react and act in an aesthetic way- whether it was walking, making a pan, decorating the floor with patterns, doing makeup, wrapping a sari on someone or even making a bed, he always had a flair for aesthetics. This aesthetic sensibility reflected in the way he created dance numbers and movements. He could see, value and reason the beauty in common things, events, ideas, and characters and transform this understanding into his dance creations using his power of imagination. Though his dance was a consciously directed activity its inspiration came from the mundane everyday experiences of life. His choreography of the astapadis (songs) from the Geet Govind are an example of a highly developed form in which the movements, body positions and gestures, though borrowed from everyday movement patterns, have the power to arouse similar feelings and emotions in the audience. Guruji combined his artistic vision and down to earth practicality to systemize random expressive movements into creative, harmonious aesthetic art experiences. Jaques D'Amboise, said Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. It's the rhythm of your life. Its the expression in time and movement, in happiness, joy, sadness and envy. Gurujis dance choreography truly brought out the essence, rhythm and joy of life. Rohini Doshi-Dandavate holds a doctoral degree in Cultural Policy and Arts Administration from the Ohio State University. As an artist in the Arts in Education Program of the Ohio Arts Council, she has conducted workshops and lecture demonstrations on Odissi dance for students in schools and colleges in Ohio since 1994. She has offered courses in Odissi dance, as a Visiting Faculty in Denison University in 2001 and continues to offer dance lessons. She received a graduate degree in Odissi dance from Kala Vikash Kendra, College of Indian Dance and Music, Cuttack, India. Her gurus are Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Guru Raghunath Dutta, Guru Ramani Ranjan Jena, and Dr Menaka Thakkar.