Kedar Mishra
Konark, the black pagoda, symbolizes the immortal imagination and vision of Odissan art and architecture. As an architectural marvel the famous half-broken monument, which is a proud inclusion in the new wonder list prepared by UNESCO, has been inspiring Odissi dance, music, painting, poetry and fine arts through ages.

Konark Festival, as conceived and designed by putting the majestic Konark Temple as the backdrop, is creating a new history by pulling a galaxy of Indian classical dancing stars who have been showcasing their best in the platform. Konark amphitheatre, specially designed for this famous festival, has witnessed many creative ensemble orchestrated by great maestros of our time. The 22nd edition of Konark Festival which unfolded from 1st to 5th. of December 2011 was no exception.

The festival is growing with time and there are many new creative dimensions those are being added to it. Whatever, the festival is primarily known as one of the finest classical dance festivals of India. It thus invites hundreds of tourists to Konark to be a part of this great Indian classical dance feast. The host, Department of Tourism and Culture, Government of Odisha, projects this festival as a grand “traditional” festival and invites artistes of high calibre from India and abroad. This year, except Manipuri, Sattriya and Kathakkali the entire Indian classical dance forms were included to the visual menu. “It was a real treat for soul and watching the great classical dancers of the nation performing at the backdrop of Konark gives you a celestial pleasure,” said Gauhar Raza, a New Delhi based scientist and poet. Mr. Raza had been to Odisha to witness the Konark Festival for the first time.

Big brands failed

The design of the festival is such that every evening there will be a treat of Odissi with another Indian classical dance form. As the land of Odissi, spectators and art lovers keep high expectation from the Odissi choreographers. For all the five days the festival had Odissi presentations by Odissi Vision and Movement Center, Kolkata led by Guru Sharmila Biswas, Suravi, Bhubaneswar led by Guru Pitambar Biswal, Sutra Dance Foundations, Malaysia tutored by Guru Ramli Ibrahim, Srijan, Bhubaneswar, of Guru Ratikanta Mohapatra, and repertory of state government’s own Guru Kelucharan Odissi Research Centre, Bhubaneswar. In fact two big names in the field of contemporary Odissi, Sarmila Bishwas and Ramli Ibrahim, had created a great hope for connoisseurs and unfortunately both of them brought big disappointments.

At the beginning of the festival, Sarmila Biswas presented an innovative invocation to Lord Ganesha. In her usual style Sharmila juxtapose folk art forms into classical Odissi. Conceptually, her presentations are of very high standard, but on stage synchronization of the repertory was seen nowhere – as if it was two or three disjointed groups dancing for practice. Gati Bilash, Katha Surpanakha and Murchhana, three most beautiful compositions of Sharmila looked low because of the lack of coordination among the dancers.

Likewise Ramli Ibrahim, one of the much hyped Odissi Guru from Malaysia, presented an out of tradition piece with so many deviations from Odissi classical ethos. On the second evening Ramli came to the stage like a dragon, yes a big dragon, jumping in front of majestic Konark, claiming himself to be the best male Odissi dancer of the world. What does he do? Jumping, going round and round (no, not Bhramari), shouting like crazy bulls (A pisachi form of dance in fact) and rolling on stage like a drunken drum. I can’t say whether it was Odissi or not. Might be it was a new clone, a new madness!

In a DASA MAHAVIDYA presentation Kamala, the goddesses of grace and wealth comes riding a corpse. Kauala Tantra and Desi witch crafts goes together. It was a script might be written by some culturally illiterate fellow and choreographed by an over-ambitious Ramli Ibrahim.

The other big brand Kalakshetra repertory also came out with a lackluster performance. Following the margam they had a very neat presentation, but it looks more mechanical. There was no communicating bhavas, but one must appreciate Kalkshetra’s effort to keep the tradition as it is.

They won the hearts

The first evening ended with a grand show by Drishtikon Dance Foundation, New Delhi, led by Guru Aditi Mangaldas. It was amazing to see Aditi Mangal Das and her group doing an abstract theme with all perfections. “Uncharted Seas”, as a theme was highly elevating and choreographically a challenging one. Philosophical exploration in body language and giving expression to an abstract theme that was Aditi’s grand success.

Third evening saw a very sweet, simple and terrific evocation in the beginning. Kuchipudi Guru Jaikishore Mosalikanti carefully groomed a group of young dancers who know the art of heart catching. No jargon, no ambitious formations, only sweet stepping and poetic swinging. Lovely performance! A tharangam, tillana and finally arathi, simply a heart touching presentation.

Another heart catcher was Guru Ratikant Mohapatra, the worthy son and disciple of legendary late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. On fourth evening Ratikant and his Srjan repertory came with Bhagavat Geeta. Transforming a grand philosophical discourse into a dance number is not a mere task. Great maestros like Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra can dare to bring the philosophical marvel on to the stage. Srimad Bhagabat Geeta, one of the immortal compositions of Guruji, redesigned and reenacted by Guru Ratikant.

It was a delight to watch Ratikant and Sujata Mohapatra duo doing as Arjuna and Krishna. Supporting them there was a group of polished repertory of Srijan. It was perfectly presented and communicated the profound vision of Bhagavat Geeta. Sujata Mohapatra as Krishna narrated the philosophy of life through her never failing perfection. Grace and expressional economy are the hallmark of Sujata. Good musical support by a young group of musicians, particularly Satya and Roopak singing the Geeta texts soulfully.

The fourth evening witnessed Dr. Neena Prasad and her group with a soul satiating Mohiniattam presentation. It was full of calmness and devotion. Soft, swift and enchanting; a perfect presentation indeed.

Konark Utsav ended with a Gitinatya kind of presentation. Not impressed by the Odissi show by GKCMRC, the state’s premiere institution to promote Odissi. This is high time that the premier dance organization of the government of Odisha should grow up. Presenting such a choreography would make it a laughing stuff and it also endanger the great reputation of Guru Durga Charan Ranbir.

I attended the show for four days and missed the second evening. This year the festival witnessed a good footfall at the international sand art festival. Similarly, the live painting, by veteran artist Baladeb Maharatha, along with the magical footsteps of the dancers drew attention of many during all five days of the festival.