Surupa-Bijayani: Sensuous Odissi

There couldn't have been an apter title for the Odissi recital at the NCPA on Saturday, by Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy of Nrityagram, than Samyoga, which means union. In the five pieces they presented, they reached the very apogee of synchronised movement and timing, supported by superb percussion and singing.

Nrityagram, on the far outskirts of Bangalore, has clearly been extremely conducive to the creativity of these two superb dancers, giving them time and space to reflect on their dance form in order to determine which boundaries they may cross and which they must honour. Their performance bore witness to the fine judgement with which they have done so, introducing new movements, interpretations and energy into their dance without betraying the grace and sculptural features that form the backbone of Odissi.

The song in praise of Lord Vishnu with which they opened, and Rati Shringara, the pallavi which followed, both displayed the rich range of Surupa Sen's choreography. It seemed as though the sheer joy of dance was prompting the dancers' backs to arch, feet to fly and torsos and limbs to move sinuously, etching captivating images in space. But of course, said the sceptic in me, this level of perfection is within reach of any talented dancer who is tutored by a strict guru and engages in a regimen of rigorous practice. But what about expressional dance, where mere practice is not enough, where the dancer must have emotional depth to go with technical skill? 

Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy proved that they had the emotional depth too, when they danced Jayadeva's ashtapadis from the traditional Odissi repertoire. These ashtapadis are danced so often and so similarly, that one feels a certain ennui creeping in when they are announced. But Sen's Yahi Madhava Yahi Keshava and Satpathy's Priye Charusheele delivered an emotional charge that left no place for ennui.

In Yahi Madhava, a hurt and angry Radha makes short shrift of Krishna who has been dallying with another woman while she herself has spent the night waiting for him. When Krishna returns in the morning, carrying upon his body all the signs of passionate love-making, she orders him out of her sight. Sen as Radha was the very epitome of pride and pain. After enacting the passion of carnal love that Krishna must have enjoyed with the other woman, she ended with a gesture that spoke of anger overcoming pain. She averted her face, briskly flicked away a tear that still lingered on her cheek, and pointed the way out.

Priye Charusheele, which brings Krishna back to Radha's door asking for forgiveness, came as the perfect follow-on from Yahi Madhava. Bijayani Satpathy as Krishna brought such vulnerability to the portrayal of the divine being sorrowing over the terrible rift that had sprung up between him and Radha, his most beloved devotee, that it was clear life without her forgiveness would be impossible for him. What drove us into the very centre of his throbbing remorse was Satpathy's tenderly humble elaboration of the last line of the song, in which Krishna falls at Radha's feet and begs her to place her foot on his head.

Surfacing from this experience, one was convinced that nothing coming after it could possibly match its emotional power. But the graph of the dancers' performance rose even higher with the last piece, Vibhakt, an arrestingly fresh interpretation of Ardhanarishwara, the philosophical concept of the male-female principle on which all creation is founded. When Ardhanarishwara is danced solo, it is almost always presented frontally as one icon made up of two halves, purush and prakriti. Two dancers doing the same thing would have looked vapid. So Sen and Satpathy departed from norm, choosing a song that allowed them to portray the two primal elements as separate entities praising each other's attributes one moment, and merging into each other the next. Surupa Sen's choreography created an interesting frisson here by occasionally breaking the formal symmetry of Odissi, before returning to its geometry.

The sculptural postures of union that the dancers executed with rock-steady balance in Vibhakt, conveyed yearning at all levels of love, from the sensuous-erotic to the sublime-philosophical. When the dancers were locked in oneness, they did something that classical dancers very rarely do. They looked directly into each other's eyes, bringing to their union an element of such intimacy that it made the grand aloofness of  Ardhanarishwara palpably real to us. The two dancers were then the very embodiment of oneness--the ultimate samyoga.

Published On : 17-05-2016