THE DANCE FORM: ODISSI

Odissi, one of the eight Classical dances of India, hails from Orissa in Eastern India. It finds mention in the Natya Shastra, the ancient treatise of Indian dance as Odra-Magadhi. Bas-reliefs in the Udaygiri hills of Orissa, depicting this dance form date back to the 1st century BCE. Though held in high esteem till the turn of the 18th Century, the status of the dance and dancers began to decline reaching a nadir during the British rule of India. The "Anti-Nautch (anti-dance)" movement of the British Raj almost brought the dance to extinction. It was not until about 60 years ago that Odissi, in the form it is seen today, was reconstructed and revitalized. Today's Odissi is the revival of existing traditions, embellished further by the incorporation of dance poses inspired by the archeological sculptures and carved motifs from the temple walls of Orissa. The Odissi musical tradition is a unique amalgam of both Hindustani and Carnatic styles of classical Indian music. Thus, Odissi is a synthesis of the ancient and the modern, the South and the North, the aesthetic and the intellectual.

Odissi originated as a religious ritual of the young and beautiful temple dancers, or Maharis. To this day, it maintains connection to its origins by being deeply devotional in its theme. This is reflected in its repertoire, which starts with the Mangalcharan - an invocation to the presiding diety Jagannath of Puri and Mother Earth- and ends in Mokshya- salvation through dance. The Maharis also popularized pieces from the Gita Govindam (the love story of Krishna and Radha), that are today a part of the modern Odissi repertoire. The fast footwork, graceful jumps and turns of Odissi are inspired by the Gotipua Nach tradition. Young boys dressed as women sang and danced to the devotional poems of religious poets. The lyrical and enticing pure dance items trace their origin to the Nartaki tradition received the patronage of the Magadha kings and was performed for their entertainment.

Odissi, like other classical dances tracing their origin back to the Natya Shastra, has three components: nritta (pure dance), abhinaya (stylized mime) and natya (story telling). Odissi is the only dance form to have another basic body stance besides the centered Plie, or Chauk. The second stance Tribhangi, literally meaning three bends is the feminine curvaceous position with the body weight on one foot. According to the Natya Shastra, Odissi is the inspired embodiment of the elemental nature of water. With its fluid gestures and delicate torso movements, Odissi effortlessly creates the illusion of sculpture waking to life, awash with grace.

SCHOOL OF ODISSI DANCE

NRITYALAYA