Asian Music and Dance


Although this internationally-acclaimed company is well-known to US audiences and has graced both the Edinburgh Fringe and international festivals in recent years, this was, inexplicably, their first London performance. The company’s reputation evidently preceded them, as they performed to a sold-out audience at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room. 

Samyoga – choreographed in 2012 by Surupa Sen to an original score by the late Pandit Ragunath Panigrahi – explores the union of male and female principles. A series of duets and solos performed by the company’s lead artists Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy indeed demonstrate a sense of unity rarely witnessed between two performers, so highly attuned after more than two decades of dedicated practice at Nrityagram’s unique institution. 

From the outset, the explosive duet Namo Narayana, evoking the avatars of Vishnu, dispelled any misconceptions of odissi as a merely graceful form, best suited to lasya aspects. Sen and Satpathy tore through the space, evoking majestic images of Garuda, Narasimha and Rama. With its high leaps and rapid series of chowka pirouettes, Ritu Vasant showcased the expansion of the odissi vocabulary which distinguishes Nrityagram from other odissi practitioners.

Two solos, performed either side of the interval, evoked different perspectives of romantic union through the narrative of the Gita Govinda. In Khandita, Sen rendered a richly dramatic interpretation of Yehi Madhava. This verse is familiar to audiences for its nobly tragic portrayal of Radha. Sen added a darker nuance to her performance: not only were the scratches and kajal marks stinging evidence of her lover’s betrayal, they carried the heroine to cruelly captivating heights of desire as she fantasised in excruciating detail on Krishna’s infidelity. 

Continuing Jayadev’s narrative, Satpathy presented the dialogue between Radha and her repentant Krishna in Priye Charusheele with an air of wisdom and humour. The poet’s lyrics were dazzlingly represented, with the recurrent image of the chakora bird drawn to the mesmerising brightness of the moon. 

Bringing the concept of Samyoga to a powerful climax, Vibakta presented the Ardhinareshwara sthotram as a love song between Shiva and Shakti. Sen and Satpathy wove around each other, shifting between roles: masculine, feminine, the adored and the adoring. As evidenced throughout the programme, the varied movement vocabulary attested to a range of influences: the high kicks and deep lunges of martial arts, chhau-like swooping leg gestures, full back-bends of the gotipuas and balances held with yogic poise. Pulling away, locking into each other’s gaze and drawing close into charged moments of contact, the choreography eschewed the traditional use of centre, instead creating a dynamic focal point between the two dancers.

Underpinning this celebration of duality and unity was the lived experience of two dancers perfectly attuned. Sharing the stage as they have shared, to a great extent, their life’s work, Sen and Satpathy enabled us to witness a relationship that challenges, supports, complements and contrasts, with a common dedication to their beloved odissi. Not only does Nrityagram offer inspiration into what odissi as a dance form can be, it epitomises the best of what dance can be: an immersive experience in which the performer’s consummate skill is evident, but ever subservient to the aim of exposing and sharing with the audience an authentic experience of heightened humanity.

lasya: the aspect of dance which is considered softer, rounder, more graceful and feminine in contrast with the masculine tandava which is characterised by vigour and fierceness.

chowka: one of the two basic stances of odissi, which is a low turned-out position,tandava in contrast to the three-bend lasya tri-bhangi posture.

Gita Govinda: a work created by the twelfth-century poet Jayadeva which describes the love of Krishna for Radha.

Khandita: a heroine wronged by her lover.

Ardhinareshwara Sthotram: Sanskrit hymn to the union of the masculine and feminine principles that create life.

chhau: martial dance from Odisha.

gotipua: a traditional form of dance from Odisha, in which groups of young boys dressed as females performed dance studded with gymnastic feats (gotipuas).



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