Following her performance at the Nehru Centre in autumn 2011 – Ileana Citaristi’s first visit to the UK for many years – this Orissa-based dancer and scholar returned to conduct a one-week workshop at the Bhavan and to perform a programme of choreography by her teacher, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.
Citaristi’s choice of items gave the small but appreciative audience the opportunity to see some unique compositions rarely performed in the UK. Throughout the recital, Citaristi’s sincere rendering of her Guru’s compositions was a joy to witness.
Opening with Srita Kamala Mangalacharan, Citaristi depicted Vishnu with vitality in various scenes taken from the second song of the Gita Govind. Particularly poignant was the final verse in praise of the author Jayadeva in which the thanksgiving was truly heartfelt.
In a simple presentation without costume changes or any additions to the set, the delight of the shared experience between dancer and audience – an authentic, human connection – was brought to the fore and succeeded in maintaining the audience’s attention, even without the added energy of live music. In Pallavi Kirvani the joy and charm of Pandit Bhubaneshwar Mishra’s music was embodied by Citaristi through precise footwork and undulating torso movements to echo the syncopated rhythm. Citaristi carried off this demanding nritta (pure dance) item with a mature and contained approach.
In the subsequent Ashtapadi Citaristi showed deep absorption in her portrayal of Radha’s account to her sakhi (friend) of her secret liaison with Krishna. Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s masterful composition Sakhi he kesi mathana mudaram combines humour, flirtation, unabashed eroticism and tenderness and was performed with a liberating openness.
The final item, Ekalavya, was a refreshing contrast to the romantic trysts of the Gita Govind, exploring masculine characters in an episode of the Mahabharata. Perhaps Citaristi’s training in Chau assisted in her vigorous portrayal of the macho Pandavas and Kauravas as they rejected lowly tribal chief Jara from their martial school? And did Jara’s determined dedication to Guru Dhrona hit a chord with Citaristi’s long-standing devotion to her own guru? Whatever the reasons, Citaristi successfully evoked the tone of each character which, combined with Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s choreography and Pandit Prafulla Kar’s descriptive music, gave this complex narrative both clarity and life. Guru Dhrona’s struggle of conscience as he decides to test Jara by asking for his left thumb, a sacrifice of his archery skills, was particularly engaging, hinting at a complex mix of morality and politics. Concluding with Dhrona’s wonder at the sacrifice he has witnessed, the audience were left with ambiguity on whether justice has been done.
As odissi gradually develops in the UK, performances such as this are vital in ensuring students, dancers and audiences are exposed to the rich heritage of the form, which as Citaristi demonstrated, has the range to portray hard-hitting masculine characters as well as the lyrical, rounded lasya qualities for which it is more widely known. After bringing some of her guru’s compositions to life for the Bhavan audience, Citaristi presented a copy of her biography of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, The Making of a Guru, to the Bhavan library. Let’s hope it provides others with further insights into the life of a great artist who is one of the foremost architects of odissi in the twenty-first century.