By Kedar Mishra

Odisssi performance on the inaugural evening of the Gunjan Dance and Music Festival
Odissi performance on the inaugural evening of the 16th Gunjan Dance and Music Festival
Wandering in the twilight zone of mythology and bringing characters from there to express the modern man’s dilemma and crisis are the biggest challenges for every Indian classical dancer and a few of them meet these challenges with great enthusiasm. The 16th National Gunjan Dance and Music Festival, organized from November 17-20, 2012, witnessed few power packed presentations in classical forms of Indian dancing depicting epic woman and their heroic acts with reference to modern sensibilities. The festival organized by Gunjan Dance Academy, one of the premier Odissi institute of Odisha, in the historic city of Cuttack erected a powerful platform to showcase the best of Indian classical performances; be it music or dance.

Shakuntala, Yagnyaseni and Meera

Duet by Malabika & Lopamudra Jena on the second evening of the 16th Gunjan Dance and Music Festival
Duet by Malabika & Lopamudra Jena on the second evening of the 16th Gunjan Dance and Music Festival
In one line the festival can be described as a celebration of Indian womanhood. Characters from epics and mythology were taken up by the young and accomplished dancers and were presented with detailed psycho-social backdrops. Three known exponents of Mohiniyattam, also spelled Mohiniattam, Gopika Varma, Aishwarya Warrier and Sangeetha Iyer (its worth noting that Kerala Sangeet Natak Academy in collaboration with Gunjan presented three promising stars of Mohiniattam in Odisha), depicted two significant characters Shakuntala and Yagnyaseni. Aishwarya and Sangeetha portrayed Shakuntala through Abhinaya. The character was same but approaching the character was different. Aishwarya relied more on descriptive and detailed depiction, while Sangeetha was crisp, suggestive and a little theatrical. Gopika Varma taking up Draupadi as her moving spirit, displayed a high level of textual involvement and in-depth understanding of characters. She bloomed like a flower petal by petal with tremendous grace and natural beauty. Gopika’s “Bisweswara darshana kara chala mana kashi”, a famous composition by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma was a divine delight.

Odissi exponent Meera Das during her performance on Meera Bai's life on the concluding evening of the 16th Gunjan Dance and Music Festival
Odissi exponent Meera Das during her performance on Meera Bai’s life on the concluding evening of the 16th Gunjan Dance and Music Festival
Another great woman whose name is invoked by every Indian as the symbol of undiluted love and absolute dedication was Meera. Gunjan’s Founding Director and accomplished Odissi exponent Meera Das picked up Meera Bai’s life and love as her new theme for a maiden composition especially designed for the festival. Meera herself lead the dance drama with intense involvement and her choreography showed glimpses of high power imagination. Meera’s emergence as a choreographer got a fresh flash of possibilities through this new production. Music composed by Sukanta Kundu and expressive vocal support by Nazia Aalam created a brilliant background to make it a moving show.

Music as Power

Taala Mahodadhi by Guru Dhaneswar Swain on the second evening of the 16th Gunjan Dance and Music Festival
Taala Mahodadhi by Guru Dhaneswar Swain on the second evening of the 16th Gunjan Dance and Music Festival
The festival accommodates classical music and dance to its fold. Odissi Mardala maestro Dhaneswar Swain, presented a theme based rhythmic show inspired by the in Puri; religiously known as the Mahodadhi. A 45-minute percussion show displayed varieties of Jati, Gadi, Khandi, Arasa etc and incorporated cultural glimpses of Puri as a city of spirituality. Gracefully supported by a band of young percussionists and Violinists, the orchestra got its tremendous vocal support from Guru Ramahari Das. On the final evening of the festival Odissi legend Shyamamani Devi sung two soulful Odissi songs.

Solo Kathak performance by Vidha Lal on the third evening of the 16th Gunjan Dance and Music Festival
Solo Kathak performance by Vidha Lal on the third evening of the 16th Gunjan Dance and Music Festival
Music as power and creative spirit moves every dancer to create the unseen and unknown. Vidha Lal, the young Kathak exponent literally set the stage ablaze through her musical and magical spins and extraordinary layakari. She was fast but absolutely graceful. “Hari Hara” and “Tarana”, two brilliant musical numbers composed by her mother Gitanjali Lal, were translated into dancing poetry by Vidha. Guru Naba Kumar Mishra’s “Dhibara Prasanga” was a repeat of his cliched and over performed theatricality.

Rays of Hope

In the festival, Gunjan gave chances to its young and upcoming dancers to perform in solo, duets and groups. Shibangi Mohapatra, Isha Satapathy and Shibani Parija came to the stage to sign up great hope and promise. Sasmita and Puspa Panda in a duet took up traditional Abhinaya, brilliantly composed by Meera Das, can be said as the shining signature of this festival. Equally, a powerful Desh Pallavi thrown up by Lopamudra and Malabika Jena. Only thing the girls have to learn is the positioning of their hands. Foolishly they used their hands to hide their superb facial expression. There was also group shows by freshers from Gunjan.

The four-day festival in Cuttack, was a vital rupture from the capital centric flow of festival in Odisha. Meera Das deserves all the accolades for this festival.