Asian Music and Dance

New Directions

This time I am late to the Nehru Centre. Flying into the theatre, sweaty and flustered, I am stopped in my tracks by the exquisite beauty of Kali Chandrasegaram dancing slowly through the aisle. I feel I have been transported to another place, another time. As I take my seat, a bit dazed, my gaze turns to Katie Ryan who emerges unexpectedly from the audience. The effect is striking and disorienting. I finally face the front of the hall where I see Scheherazaad Cooper seated on stage with an expression of quiet longing that draws you in and holds you there on the razor’s edge. I know that tonight I am in for a treat. 

As Kali makes his exit, Katie joins Scheherazaad on stage for the opening item, Pallavi or ‘flowering’, choreographed by the legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra with music by Bhubaneswar Mishra. Starting out steady and meditative, the pace of the dance slowly builds to a crescendo of complex rhythmic footwork and dynamic choreography. The dancers complement each other well, both in terms of costume (red/black and white/red) as well as form and style. They make good use of the space, no small feat on the compact Nehru Centre stage. 

The theme of waiting weaves the following three solos together. They are unique in that they are all based on Oriya literature and sung in the Oriya language. Kali begins with Meena Nayana seated at the front of the stage, a small but effective and intimate touch. Choreographed by Guru Gajendra Kumar Panda, the piece narrates the timeless story of the nayika waiting for a glimpse of the beloved. Kali is an engaging performer, though greater consistency in character would have made the performance more convincing. At the end of Meena Nayana, we are left hanging with a question (“Will he come?”), which is taken up by Scheherazaad in her solo, Nayika, about a young woman who has fallen asleep after staying awake the whole night decorating her home and herself in anticipation of her lover’s arrival. Choreographed by Guru Gangadhar Pradhan and Guru Aruna Mohanty, this item is the highlight of the evening for me. Scheherazaad captivates our complete attention as she moves with clarity and ease between anticipation, worry, disappointment, anger, anguish, regret, and forgiveness – a rollercoaster of emotions we can all relate to. A skilled exponent of abhinaya, she makes the feelings of the distraught heroine at once accessible and visceral without resorting to melodrama. Katie completes the last of the solos with Leela Nidi Hai, a playful Oriya composition choreographed by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. Through her portrayal of a bathing Radha who pleads with Krishna to give back her sari, she captures the lighthearted sentiment of the song. 

The evening’s programme ended with another Pallavi in Ragmalika, choreographed by Madhavi Mugdal and danced by Katie and Kali, followed by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s Moksha, which featured all three performers shape-shifting into various sculptural poses, creating a moving tableau of arresting images. Trained in Malaysia, India, Canada, the US and the UK, the performers have varying techniques and styles, which speaks to the global reach of the form, but which also made the dancing look slightly disjointed at times. Nevertheless, the dedication and commitment of the dancers to the practice and performance of odissi was remarkable and an absolute joy to watch. Often the forgotten stepsister of bharatanatyam and kathak, odissi is frequently sidelined from mainstream South Asian dance circles. Thanks to dancers like Kali, Katie and Scheherazaad, this dance form is alive and well in the UK, and pushing its way into the diaspora one tribhanga at a time.



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