Photo by Karthik Venkataraman
A fascinating cultural dialogue delivered through movement and music.
Renowned dance companies Nrityagram Dance Ensemble and Chitrasena Dance Company collaborate to create a contemporary fusion of classical Odissi classical dance from India and traditional Kandyan dance from Sri Lanka. The work engages in a conversation between the distinct dance traditions and movement vocabularies of each country, in the second cross-cultural collaboration between these two acclaimed companies. This performance was filmed on the 20th of September 2019 at Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Bangalore, India.
The New York Times
Under the artistic direction of Surupa Sen, the fluid and precise Nrityagram’s Odissi dance is performed to a group of five musicians playing ragas. On the other hand, Chitrasena’s Kandyan form leans towards the muscular, vertical, and athletic. Both incorporate percussion in their music and are rooted in ancient religious rituals. The piece is a reciprocation of differing styles, shifting from one to the other.
“In the evening’s pièce de résistance, artistic director and choreographer Surupa Sen brilliantly met the challenge of classical dance: how it might speak in the language of now without being wrenched from its foundation.”
Hailing from southern India, the renowned Nrityagram Dance Ensemble is one of the world’s leading dance companies. The communal life and training of the company integrates dance and art-making into the daily lives of each artist. Through the classical movements of Odissi dance, the dancers bring stories of the Hindu epics to life with their bodies. Joining the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble is Sri Lanka’s Chitrasena Dance Company. Chitrasena has been leading the development of Kandyan in Sri Lanka, being a key proponent to opening this dynamic style of dance to women, whilst also preserving it as a cultural tradition and introducing it to the contemporary audience.
NRITYAGRAM DANCE ENSEMBLE
Nrityagram (which means dance village) is located outside Bangalore, India. It was founded in 1990 by Odissi dancer Protima Gauri, who converted ten acres of farmland into a setting for the study, practice and teaching of dance.
India’s first modern Gurukula, Nrityagram is dedicated to creating excellence through the traditional method of learning, the Guru-Shishya Parampara, referred to as mentorship in modern times. Nrityagram is a centre of learning where dancers from all over the world live, in an atmosphere that nurtures artistic exploration and development. Learning is a way of life, and students have a rare opportunity to imbibe the spirit of the Gurus by living with them and observing their creative endeavours.
For over two decades, Surupa Sen (Artistic Director) has researched and expanded the vocabulary of Odissi dance and developed a style that distinguishes the dancers of the Nrityagram School. Former Director Training and Outreach Bijayini Satpathy, developed an expanded, systematic and accessible training programme for Odissi dancers, which is equally valuable for beginners, advanced learners and performers.
With over 200 students, Nrityagram fosters the artistic, intellectual and personal growth of the dancers and prepares them for successful and productive lives as artists and citizens, as well as to become leaders in their professions.
The aim is to prepare dancers for careers that combine performance with teaching, community outreach, and leadership. To enrich their practice, dancers are taught yoga, meditation, and martial arts along with Sanskrit and ancient dance scriptures. Choreographers, musicians, writers, and theatre practitioners from all over the world visit, to perform and conduct workshops and seminars in their area of practice.
The training system includes a unique, scientific body-conditioning programme that is sourced from Yoga, Natyashastra, Kalaripayattu, Western fitness methods and Odissi exercises. This training method is designed to increase the performance lifespan of a dancer and is sought-after by accomplished dance and movement professionals from different disciplines.
The uniqueness and depth of the dance curriculum at Nrityagram is unparalleled and strengthens its position as a ground-breaking institution.
Although steeped in and dedicated to ancient practice, the Ensemble is also committed to carrying Indian dance into the twenty-first century. Enabled by grants from International Arts Funding organisations, Nrityagram’s dancers not only explore creative expansions of tradition but are also able to commission fresh compositions from leading Indian classical musicians.
Nrityagram has presented six full-length Ensemble shows Śrī: In Search of the Goddess (2000), Ansh (2004), Sacred Space (2006), Pratimā: Reflection (2008), Śriyaḥ (2011) and Saṃhāra (2012), two full-length Duet shows Saṃyoga (2012) and Songs of Love and Longing (2013), and one full-length solo show Yadunandana (2017). All choreographed by Surupa Sen.
THE CHITRASENA DANCE COMPANY
Founded by Guru Chitrasena with a vision to inspire and exhilarate through the traditional dances and drums of Sri Lanka, the Chitrasena Dance Company has always been at the forefront of transforming the traditional arts landscape of the island. Chitrasena is recognized for rescuing the traditional dances that were confined to village settings and presenting it to audiences in Sri Lanka and across the world. The Company was founded in 1943 and initially nurtured under the creative genius Chitrasena, and later together with his wife Vajira. They worked tirelessly for decades to carefully distill ancient rhythmic rituals, by reviving and refining elements of it while staying firmly rooted in the old, and developed an authentic dance language.
For over seven decades the Chitrasena Dance Company has given life to compelling performances ranging from a rich repertoire of dance and drumming pieces, to acclaimed original ballets and productions inspired by ancient rituals and contemporary culture.
Karadiya (1961), Nala Damayanthi (1963), Nrithanjali (1965), Kinkini Kolama (1978), Shiva Ranga (1984), Chandalika (1996) and Bera-Handa (2001) are some of the most-renowned productions. More recently, the Chitrasena Dance Company has brought to the stage The Art of Chitrasena (2006), Kumbi Kathawa (2007), Dancing for the Gods (2010), Devanjali (2015) and Guru Gedara Festival (2018). The creative partnership and the first collaborative production, based on an invitation extended to the Chitrasena Dance Company by Nrityagram led to the much-acclaimed production Saṃhāra (2012).
The Chitrasena Dance Company celebrated its 75th year in 2018, and the third generation is led by Heshma Wignaraja, Artistic Director and eldest granddaughter of Chitrasena and Vajira, who continues to take forward the legacy of her grandparents. Experimenting without compromise and using traditional dance language and form to push boundaries, the new work offers a fresh perspective, while upholding Guru Chitrasena’s philosophy that “the new is but an extension of the old”.
SURUPA SEN (Artistic Director, choreographer, soloist) was the first student to graduate from Nrityagram. She began her Odissi training with the architect of Odissi, Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra. She also studied Odissi with Guru Protima Gauri, and Abhinaya (expressional dance) with Guru Kalanidhi Narayanan. For over two decades, Surupa worked with Bijayini Satpathy to research and expand the dance vocabulary of Odissi, and developed an aesthetic style that distinguishes the dancers from the Nrityagram Gurukula (School). As a child she studied Bharatanatyam to which she attributes her preoccupation with form and line. Attracted to choreography from childhood, Surupa has focussed on making new dances using an expanded Odissi language, rooted in traditional Odissi and the Natyashastra. She has a keen talent for music and rhythm composition and has worked closely with Pt. Raghunath Panigrahi since 1999.
Surupa has choreographed six full-length ensemble shows for Nrityagram, which are Śrī: In Search of the Goddess (2000), Ansh (2004), Sacred Space (2006), Pratimā: Reflection (2008), Śriyaḥ (2011) and Saṃhāra (2012); two full-length duet shows Saṃyoga (2012) and Songs of Love and Longing (2013) and one solo show Yadunandana (2017).
Surupa is Artistic Director and choreographer at Nrityagram.
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