Asian Music and Dance


Dance professionals adept at the classical form odissi tend to receive less attention in the UK than those who practise either bharatanatyam or kathak. This alone was reason enough to draw a full and warmly-responsive audience to the sole London presentation (following on the heels of a debut at Luton’s Hat Factory) of Shakti by the Odissi Ensemble. Presented by Kadam and this magazine, the production also marked the first time that UK-based odissi dancers and musicians have performed together in the country. Beyond the rarity factor, however, was the simple fact that the evening, although imperfect, was an easily engaging and rewarding assemblage of skills delivered with considerable assurance and sincerity.

 The ensemble proved to be an estimable quartet from the get-go, opening a bill of shortish pieces with three works choreographed by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. The first, a subtly-perfumed invocation to Ganesha, demonstrated their collective unity and individual sense of style. It was a pleasure to see the compact Elena Catalano, the differently yet equally pleasing Maryam Freeflower and Katie Ryan and, last but far from least, the towering Kali Chandrasegaram sway and stamp while sporting beatifically knowing smiles. Ryan was then accorded the initial solo, a dance in praise of Lord Vishnu in the guises of Krishna and Rama. It was a small tour de force, Ryan essaying five scenes with a springy energy and varied expressivity (fierce here, serene there). She and her colleagues returned in Batu, a pure dance that underlined features of the odissi technique – including the teapot-like position of the arms and body, and a surprisingly graceful juddering on the heels – aligned within the stage space to the geometry of the diagonal, the circle and so on. All three dances featured music composed by the relatively unheralded Pt. Bhubaneshwar Mishra, a composer who knew how to successfully marry melody and rhythm.

The first half ended with a dreamily devotional, soothing abhang or ‘unbroken’ song in the Marathi language from vocalist Jahnavi Harrison – an ideal example of the invitation to ‘sit back and enjoy’ that we’d been offered at the very start of the night. Harrison also served as a violinist, playing alongside her fine fellow musicians Ranjana Ghatak (also a vocalist), Parvati Rajamani (spoken rhythms), and Gurdain Rayatt (percussion).

After the interval came Megh Pallavi, a duet for Catalano and Freeflower that underlined their shared strength and refinement. They pulled this partnership off with aplomb, especially given the technical glitch (a case of temporarily faulty recorded sound) that occurred before they’d even commenced the dance. For me, however, the evening’s highlight was Chandrasegaram’s Bhagavati Ashtaka, conceived as a sacred homage to the masculine and the feminine. Shaven-headed and with an almost iconically pretty face, this big man cut quite a figure in his sheer red, silky trousers and waistcoat-like black top. But there’s a controlled power inside Chandrasegaram’s flesh that suggests intriguing depths. Dancing with a fierce yet delicate formality, his solo tapped into a divine embodiment of ecstasy and form. I love, too, how he took time to inhabit the essences and shapes of his choreography.

Afterwards Rayatt impressed with a tabla solo, spilling out rippling beats with subtle virtuosity. At once ambitious yet innately modest, the show finished with a dance that capitalised on the ensemble’s varying sizes and personalities as well as odissi’s capacity to embrace spectacle and emotion within a religious context. Production values throughout were simple, with the lighting in particular sometimes seeming uneven. But such was the evening’s pervasive generosity of spirit, ultimately any limitations mattered little.



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