Kedar Mishra
Konark, the magnificent monument of Odissi art and aesthetic witnessed a horrific scene on Odissi art in the third evening of Government of Odisha’s sponsored Konark Festival 2011. Malaysia based acclaimed Odissi guru Ramli Ibrahim and his Sutra dancers presented a group choreography titled Vision For Ever which was nothing but a slap on the face on Odissi. In other words, it was no doubt a serious attempt to kill the art form in the name of modernization.

Art is an ever flowing stream where experiment and creative innovations are essential. But it does not give anybody the liberty to kill or spoil the original art form. Ramli’s presentation consists four times tested dance pieces of late Guru Debaprasad Das, that is Saveri Pallavi, Sthayi, Hariahara and Dasa Mahavidya woven into a new concept. In a dilapidated temple premises an unknown devotee trying to learn the art of salvation through art. Good concept. But it was executed in an erratic manner. The body language used to show the Odissi art form is seems alien and it was closer to western dance language. Chauka and Trivanga used just for eyewash. Basically it was a western choreographic language juxtaposed with Odissi. The well groomed and balanced dancers throwing tremendous energy were devoid of Odissi grace. Their faces look mechanical and for a spiritual concept the dancers are just misfits.

Why This Rage?

Guru Ramli Ibrahim is known for his controversial Odissi dress code. Ramli came to Odisha in 2005 with his Sutra dancers. During that visit he had to face serious allegation of distorting Odissi through the use of revealing dresses. Dress code in Odissi is a debatable issue since then. This time Ramli uses very decent dress for the female dancers but he and his co-male dancer Guna used funny dresses. But that is not a big issue. Problem is probably lies with Ramli’s understanding of Odissi as a classical dance form and Indian spirituality as a concept.

Ramli is fascinated by Tantra and its really good. But how he interprets Tantra is a million dollar question. In his production Vision for Ever he used Dasa Mahavidya (or ten wisdom) goddesses as terrifying objects. The symbols and compositions that he used are arbitrary and meaningless. For example Kamala , the tenth wisdom goddess, rides a corpse. It is really idiotic! Likewise all the wisdom goddesses shown as ferocious- that is incorrect. The Mahavidyas represent paradoxical cosmic vision and they symbolize both good and bad equally. They are holy and horrific. Both- boon and bane. Here in Ramli’s imagination every goddess comes out to scare up the devotee and kick him out. Ramli probably does not understand the line between Bibhatsa and Bhayanaka . The portrayal of Mahavidya episode had no sense of spirituality. It was pure gimmick. Ramli wishfully trying to bring Desi witch craft as a spiritual Tantric practice. In fact, desi witch craft had a different area free from Mahavidya Sadhana. The erratic body movements of the dancers and their vulgar shouting during the dance is unnecessary and out of context. Perhaps Ramli is trying to bring folk elements of Odia Devi tradition into his choreography. For that he must go to the villages and watch our Kalesi, Ghanta Patua , Kali Prava etc. Our spiritual Devi dancing is not a kind of madness what Ramli wanted us to believe.

Whether it was ignorance or wishful stupidity, I don’t know; but there is a funny attempt to connect Saveri Pallavi with Sabari Charya . The character and impact of Saveri Pallavi is totally different from Sabari or Sahaja Sundari.

Tradition is not a game.

Ramli always project himself as a game changer. He wanted to change everything that is Odissi. The dress code, body movements, stepping, scripts, everything. His dancers come to stage without bangles or painting Alata in feet. You don’t have to follow any classical rules set up by Abhinaya Chandrika or Natya Manorama! You can have rules for yourself and become a master!

Konark Festival, which was conceived as a grand international festival to showcase the great Indian classical dance traditions seems to be deviated from its objectives by inviting such gimmicks.