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Dance Review: Evocative tribute to Odissi dance in Apsaras Arts’ showcase

Marrying dance with storytelling, Nila Madhava paid powerful homage to a bygone era of mediaeval culture in the east Indian region of Odisha.

Nila Madhava
Apsaras Arts
Darshana – Intimate Dance Series
Last Sunday (Aug 1)
Video on demand until Aug 15

Marrying dance with storytelling, Nila Madhava paid powerful homage to a bygone era of mediaeval culture in the east Indian region of Odisha.

A careful curation of space and shadow elements in the opening segment of the showcase created an ethereal effect when light reflected off dancer Kalaivani Kumaresan’s ornate silver jewellery and headgear – both trademark elements of Odissi dance.

The artistes chose an interesting focal point – the Puri Jagannath Temple – for the four-part performance. An important centre of social and artistic exchange, the mediaeval temple in Odisha has survived till the present day.

Apsaras’ revamped filming space at Goodman Arts Centre – coined Avai (congregation of the like-minded in Tamil) – complemented the prowess of Kalaivani’s hour-long solo.

She chose a no-frills approach with minimal production design, instead embracing traditional Odissi repertoire and music through her performance.

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Kalaivani’s excellent musicality was striking in the first segment, although the bhava (expressions through face and body movements) elements of the performance seemed mellow and restricted.

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and his son Guru Ratikant Mohapatra’s distinctive choreography – swaying motions and moments of ebb and flow accompanied by a frenzy of footwork – was delivered with calculated precision in the second act.

Kalaivani was more exuberant in this portion featuring nritta (pure dance movement) and devoid of lyrical accompaniment.

While narrator Soumee De’s storytelling intervals helped to tie the segments together into an engaging tapestry of history and mythology, the flow of speech did hinder the momentum of the performance.

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In her fourth and last segment, Kalaivani took on the persona of a poet, bringing to life elaborate scenes from mythology that are rarely depicted in contemporary productions.

She proved her mettle as a dramatist, skilfully depicting multiple characters with unique quirks.

When she portrayed a defeated man, she was hunched over in shame and disappointment; when she took on the character of a coy bride, she appeared shy and soft.

Kalaivani is a seasoned classical artiste with a unique style of execution that draws from her background in other Indian dance forms like kathak and bharatanatyam.

Her Odissi showcase was an ambitious endeavour that celebrated a dance form revived after years of colonial suppression.

This article was originally published in The Straits Times.

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