News & Notes

15th Guru Debaprasad award festival

The two-day annual Guru Debaprasad Award Festival for the year 2021 held at Rabindra Mandap, Bhubaneswar, had no dearth of grandeur. Efficiently organised and planned by Tridhara, under the guidance of its director, Odissi guru Gajendra Panda, the festival was held in March 2022.

Tridhara organises this annual festival to honour distinguished personalities and artists for their outstanding contribution to dance and music. In addition, the festival also showcases and promotes the tradition of the legendary Odissi guru Debaprasad Das, which amalgamates classical Odissi with the essence of tribal and folk traditions.

The prestigious Guru Debaprasad Lifetime Achievement Award 2021, was conferred upon the distinguished Indian classical flute maestro, veteran Hariprasad Chaurasia. Guru Debaprasad Award 2021 was presented to Datuk Ramli Ibrahim of Malaysia for his invaluable contribution to Odissi dance. Acclaimed Kathak exponent Saswati Sen and guru Sadashiva Pradhan were presented the award for their contribution to Kathak and Chhau, respectively.

Guru Debaprasad Yuva Pratibha Award 2021 was bagged by Alok Bishoyi, renowned folk artist from Ganjam and Odissi dancers Kaori Naka (Japan) and G. Nageswari (Telengana).

Following the customary inauguration by the dignitaries, the performances opened with a stunning invocatory group production Jagannatha Swami by the principal dancers of Tridhara. Recently, the performing group has been winning critical acclaim across major festivals in the country and abroad for their solid training and professional finesse. The excellently choreographed, stylised classical piece was based on Sankaracharya’s Jagannatha Stuti or sampoorna Jagannatha ashtakam boasting of wonderful dramaturgy. It was conceived and choreographed with subjective, fertilised ideas and patterns by guru Gajendra Panda, also from Ganjam, weaving the folk and tribal elements into a coherent multi-hued presentation. The dancers displayed rigid discipline and a high standard of technique bringing forth the splendour of the lyrics. Prabhutosh Panda, the only male dancer in the group and son of Gajendra Panda showed a commanding stage presence. A brilliant dancer, he shows promise to carry the legacy of Guru Debaprasad Das forward. The shimmering decorated idols of Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra on the elevated platform behind the performance space was an apt backdrop to add a divine touch to the performance. The music by Sukanta Kundu and rhythm composition by Dhaneswar Swain added recognisable character to the piece.

Geetika Sree, a leading dancer of Sutra Foundation, Malaysia, is a powerful force to any item. With an inherent angasuddha in dance, she is always a pleasure to watch for her stunning poised authority. Her taut integration of body movements and style in Suryashtakam explored through the interstices between perfected movements of classical Odissi with yogic postures and asanas to portray the energy and vigour the Sun reflects when it floods the earth with its light. Originally composed by Durgacharan Ranbir, the piece was prepared by Ramli considering Surya, who originated from Padma, and is responsible for removing darkness. A high-energy blend of pure dance with yogic postures of “Suryapranam asanas”, the rendition began with the Suryapranam stotra, Om Surjaya namoh, Adi devayaya namoh and ensured a unique performance of uplifting dance, inspired by the twelve different names of Surya.

Dancers of Kala Vikash Kendra, Cuttack displayed good teamwork in their pleasing Lakshmi Nrusingha Dhyan, a part of the mangalacharan of the Prahlada Natak. Choreographed by Gajendra Panda, it was set to raga Mangala Gurjari and Lalita by Gopal Panda in tala Joti, and Ekatali with rhythm composed by Banamali Rana. The audience enjoyed the fight between Hiranyakasipu and Nrusingha, performed by two elderly male dancers.

The music section next did not quite create an impression because of the mediocrity of the presentation. Tabalia Anshul Pratap Singh presented some gems of the Banaras gharana with his strong strokes in toda, tukda, tihai and chakradhar paran in Teen taal. He drew the audience attention with some chalans of the gharana stalwart Kishan Maharaj, but his attempt to reproduce the sound of the conch shell (shankh) and damraru did not have the desired effect. 

The ghazal recital by Anshika Chauhan was quite lacklustre even though she presented a couple of familiar numbers of Amir Khusro and Shakil Badayani.

The evening closed with the rarely seen folk form ‘Sakhinata’—the dance of small boys dressed as girls, called sakhipilas—by Alok Bishoyi and his group from Ganjam. Usually not seen in auditoriums, it is a prominent dance style of eighteenth and nineteenth century Odisha and is largely acrobatic, musical and full of loud gestures. The use of the lower torso from the waist downwards is a common feature in the dance style. It was considered erotic and suffered disgrace in the latter part of the twentieth century dismissing its specific contribution to the reconstruction of the neoclassical Odissi dance, although most of the Odia poems sung and danced by the sakhipilas were adopted in abhinaya numbers. One such popular number Malli mala Shyamo ku debi immortalised by the acclaimed singer Shymamonoi Devi was presented to thunderous applause as the concluding item, with the main dancer as Radha with two accompanists. Alok Bishoyi from Ganjam, now an MBA in service, is a sakhinata guru and is dedicated to keeping the tradition alive through his group at Digapahandi.

With live music, the performance began with three dancers dressed in colourful, flashy clothes, standing in samabhanga with their left hand on their waists, constantly thumping their right leg to the beats of the mardala, unlike the common Odissi dancers. The opening duet Ki lajo payili, was according to the common dialectic practice of one dancing and showing abhinaya while the other standing with his hand on the waist, responding to the moves of the co-dancer. This added a special sprightliness to the item. Live music added joy to the performances. In the fast-paced rhythmic number, Ago duti ago Rati, the three dancers exhibited fine feats with a perfect grip on tala patterns and strong rustic touch. Most of the songs were by poet Banamali and Gajendra Purohit and sung by a boy, hardly twelve years old, melodiously in a fullthroated voice with fantastic range; a rewarding experience for the first time with sakhinata. Incidentally, Gajendra Panda also had a sakhinata background.

After the award ceremony on the second evening, the internationally renowned Ramli Ibrahim and his disciple Geetika Sree presented a spiritually tempered, magical, spellbinding duet Hari-Haro mangalacharan set to ragas Pahadi, Darbari in Ektali. Choreographed around 1984 by young Gajendra Panda incorporating sabdaswarapatha in his articulate voice, the ukuta and the stotras were also chanted by him. The original music recording was used for the performance with vocals by Lakshmikant Palit, beginning with the Vishnu vandana followed by the sabdaswarapatha Jhilliljharjharika mridangapataha bhedi sankhadwani by Gajendra followed by melodious singing.

The visual imagery was appealing with aesthetic movements performed in dignified and beautiful harmony with clockwork precision with the majestic presence of Ramli and different emotions emanating from Geetika’s expressive eyes. Ramli Ibrahim’s mastery of the language of dance to communicate both lasya and tandava elements and the grammar of the art of this particular dance form left the audience stunned.

The star disciple of Birju Maharaj, senior dancer Saswati Sen, began with the bhajan Krishna mahima Natabar katha (Ek anek roop mein dekhu Govinda Murari) composed and sung in her guru’s voice as her sraddhanajali. This was followed by impassionate abhinaya for Jayadeva’s ashtapadi, Kuru Yadunandana, sung and composed by her guru. As a continuum, she danced in ecstasy, moving her odhni over her head and concluded with a razor-sharp, riveting tarana adorned with chakkars, displaying her high calibre and technical virtuosity.

Kaori Naka presented her oftenseen number Ardhanareeswari with understanding and confidence. It is now time to include other items to present a varied repertoire.

Sadashiva Pradhan and his group closed the festival with a soulstirring Mayurbhanj Chhau Nritya presentation of Abhimanyu Badha, an episode from the Mahabharata. The choreography by Gourmohan Mohanta was an experience in creativity using the basic styles and movements of Mayurbhanj Chhau like topka, uflis and lift to portray the penetration of the chakravyuha by the exhaustively trained, exceptionally physically fit and powerful eight dancers. The practice of channelling the energy harnessed by the martial art Chhau into powerful performance energy was fully unleashed during the performance—a technique perfected by the dancers, especially in the aerial vaults. The level of intensity of mercilessness was sustained throughout the dramaturgy by the excellent dancers. And there were poignant, impactful, moments—the war scenes when Abhimanyu (a fantastic artist) struggled but was tossed in the air and killed. The audience was captivated and was touched by the choreographer’s final, tender touch of the warriors leaving the war ground wiping their eyes after the slaying. Chakra Vyuha was conceived by Sadashiva Pradhan and set to the music of Sukanta Kundu. The first day was anchored by Sangita Gossain and the second by Srinibas Gharuary.