By Kedar Mishra
Konark: The very insignia of Odishan art, sculpture and poetry majestically stands as the backdrop of this grand celebration of Indian classical dance known as Konark Festival, hosted by Odisha Tourism. When December comes, all eyes set on to the Konark stage, one of the finest open air auditorium of India, proudly displaying monumental Konark temple as its enchanting backdrop. From 1st to 5th of December, Konark Festival opened up a series of creative activities centering on classical dance recitals. This year the festival menu contained five Odissi groups led by major Odissi exponents of the country like Madhavi Mudgal, Meera Das, Kasturi Pattnaik, Surupa Sen and Durgacharan Ranbir. Likewise other dance forms in the festival were Kuchipudi led by Raja-Radha Reddy, Mohiniattam by Bharati Shivaji, Bharatanatyam by Mallika Sarabhai, Sattriya by Anita Sharma and Kathak by Malavika Mitra. This one is a festival which has been regarded as the high pedestal for who’s who of Indian classical dance. This year is no exception. It’s a brilliant platform for accomplished and upcoming choreographers to showcase there creative best to a global audience. Konark festival is one of the few major festivals of this country where a large number of tourists from India and abroad participate as audience including a huge number of locals.
Though the festival includes many other Indian classical dance forms, Odissi plays a dominant role by getting berth in every evening. Here major choreographers of Odissi gets chance to showcase their creative best. This year out of five Odissi presentations, Nrityagram’s production was extraordinary, Cuttack based Gunjan Dance Academy’s fresh and young group presented a conceptually rich and rhythmically soulful composition. Madhavi Mudgal and her group from New Delhi came up with neat works. Overpowering all others fourth day Odissi presentation of Nrityagram stood out as one of the finest classical dialogue and aesthetic delight of South Asia. It’s something coming from the crux of the soul. Nrityagram’s performance like a cosmic wave engulf the viewers and embraced them to become one with the dancers. Samahara, Nrtyagram’s extraordinary production in Konark Festival was like lightening on the soul. A dance dialogue between Odissi and Kandian(a classical dance form from Sri Lanka) creates magic. Surupa Sen as a choreographer proves how dance can be transcending and Trans cultural. Odissi’s engagement with other classical art form can never be a threat to it, rather it’s an extension which will help it to grow up. Great rhythmic narratives composed by Dhaneswar Swain and Musical excellence by living legend Raghunath Panigrahi.
On the second evening Meera Das and her young disciple presented a power packed show taking three Suddha Nritya(Desh Pallavi,Nritta and Shanti Mantra as Mokshya) and one piece based on Vedic concept of Hiranyagarva. Rhythmically strong and having a strong sense of sculpture, Meera’s girls flew on a stream of rapture in the audience. There perfect move on stage and ability to create scintillating moving sculptures, capture viewers classic imagination. Another group of young dancers in the inaugural evening led by Madhavi Mudgal came out very well, but with a poor musical support. Odissi Research center led by Guru Durgacharan Ranbir and Nabakumar Mishra and Kasturi pattnaik’s group do their bit. ORc and students of Utkal University of Culture unitedly presented a Geetinatya based on Champu. It was simple and synchronized, but nothing new or noteworthy.
Those who have seen Malliks Sarabhai and her group performing in Konark can never forget the blissful and blessed experience they had with music and moves. Sampradaya, a beautifully woven garland of devotional songs, underlining a socio-cultural synthesis of India brings about the highest order of aesthetic pleasure to ears and eyes. Soul piercing music and crafty composition in Bharatnatyam, established the show as the highlight of this festival. Bharati Shivaji and her disciple in Mohiniattam portrayed style, subtlety and gait of Sopana sangeetham. Be it an Astapadi or that brilliant composition of V.Narayana Menon, where life is depicted as a ballgame, Bharati’s presentations created magic in utmost simplicity. Newly established Sattriya from Assam led by Anita Sharma showcased promise and brilliance. Anita’s compositions are smooth and soothing. Within the traditional Vaishnavite frame work she derived her design of dance and that was extremely beautiful. Without using designed jargons or speedy movements she carefully crafted the dance of simplicity.
Legendary Kuchipudi exponent Raja-Radha Reddy can easily be branded as the disappointment of the festival. Few name evokes high expectations in mind and Raja- Radha Reddy is a name of that brand.but comfort zone of optimism was shattered after seeing a bulky and imbalanced Raja Reddy on stage. It’s high time that the master should concentrate more on choreography. None of his works can be called imaginative. Whether it’s a taraana or tharangam, the group goes on repeating the steps and moving in the same line from beginning to the end. Even in the Natabarara Tharuni, which could have been an episode of excellence came out as a disaster. Changing musical pattern and using Hindustani for a Kuchipudi recital killed its original flavour. Using Chunni Ghagra as costume, again shows a poor unimaginative mindset of the veteran master. Perhaps he believes that Rasa is basically a north Indian concept and for that one has to go for north Indian costume. That was absolutely an unacceptable design. Finally Kathak by Malabika Mitra and group had shades of promise, but lacking clarity and vision.
No doubt, this one is a festival of extraordinary radiance and from tourism point of view a flood gate to open up tourist inflow. To make it what it is today, credit must go to A.K.Tripathy, Principal Secretary, Culture and Tourism for his tireless effort and having a class vision. There are few flip sides of the festival which one can not ignore. Light and sound arrangement is a constant flaw which needs a permanent rectification. Sometime the stage goes completely dark while performance going on. Sound division in the auditorium needs proper care. The programme is on live broadcast and for that the organizers have to be extra careful. You can not allow to stray dogs running behind the stage and creating laughter. Finally, selection of performing groups should be a fair and objective one. Taking risk to invite unskilled Odissi groups to perform in such a prestigious festival may harm its reputation. Instead of going for brand names, production and choreography should the prime consideration.