“Zore se mar! I cannot hear your feet!”, said Debidi, my guru. Literally translates to, “Harder! Stamp your feet harder!” Debidi (Debi Basu) is a well-known Odissi dancer, guru and savior to whom, any Odissi practitioner wishing to enrich the deeper spiritual experience with the form, runs to!
Anyone even remotely familiar with Indian classical dance will know that stances with bent knees and stamping hard on the floor are characteristic signatures of this genre. Injuries due to that impact are also common amongst us dancers. But I want to divert from this meaning of the word impact [the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another] to the other one, meaning – a marked effect or influence.
That dance bestows grace, grounding and grit maybe well appreciated, but I feel that the power of its impact to influence desirable change in society is not yet exploited to its full potential.
“How and why, do I choreograph within the framework of the form”? “How do I innovate in a centuries old art with my only tool being the physical body that generations of dancers have used”? These are questions facing Indian classical practitioners rather often.
Licence to choreograph must be earned and there is only one way to earn it – immersive learning in the very environment of the roots of the genre. Then when one choreographs, there is no way one can fall afoul of the divine grace ruling this art. And if one falls afoul, one should return to that nourishing original environment, because it means one is not yet ready. Even otherwise, it is a lifelong imperative to sip at the source.
New themes to choreograph – be it climate change or about an Afghan woman – are necessary in this era, just like it was critical to revive the forms post Indian Independence. Therefore, it is even more of a responsibility to preserve the form in these times of change. Keep the medium the same but communicate in an arresting manner to influence much needed change.
Innovations in art have been correlated with innovations in science. Not just because of advances in technology that come out of new science but just because certain ideas are out there in certain times. We have seen it repeatedly in the past with painting and science – Picasso’s cubism coincided with Einstein’s Relativity and August Kekule’s somnolent vision of a snake biting its tail (Ouroboros), a dream that supposedly revealed the true structure of the Benzene ring to the German chemist.
Einstein felt that Creativity is intelligence having fun. Choreography too follows the same precept. It is our Dance Intelligence (DI) that creates choreography, but only if we allow to dabble, to experiment, to dazzle and to fail, all the while free and having fun. That is how we might make an impact.
Learn the rules like a pro so that you can break them like an artist, said Pablo Picasso. Dance choreography comes from that immersion in the genre. Once you are part of the culture, whatever you do to enrich it is creative, yet part of that genre.
To Picasso, painting was just another way of keeping a diary. A new choreography too is just that. It is another page in one’s diary. It should simply reflect one’s current state. When Climate Change is on one’s mind, there should be no attempt – but just allow one’s apprehensions to flow. If it is the pandemic, simply let the recreate this new truth about our lives. If one wishes, one could put a spin on it. But it all flows from one’s immersion. By no means is classical art not rich enough to envelope new concerns or themes. Let our art educate us on how to interpret new realities. That is how we might make an impact.
It should not come from the hands or our head or our heart. It should just go from the art to one’s mood to the vision and allow our limbs to take over. That is choreography at its purest. We may just catch a glimpse and then the vision may disappear. After all, we aren’t trying to portray but to evoke. That is how we might make an impact. And that comes from unconscious decision which is suffused with decades of practice immersions.
But what does all this say about fusion dance? Clearly there is a place for it. Even the most traditional of dances after all, were new at one time, a fusion between aspects of one culture and the longings of one original innovator of that genre. But as with all things beautiful, a fusion choreography should be both its fused elements, rather than neither.
They can succeed spectacularly only when they are not a compromise but conjure up a certain commonality that hints at their distinctiveness in certain effortless detailing. But should we not stick to the traditional if we cannot pull this off?
In art, one plus one can make three or, can also make a mere half.
Neelambaree Prasad is an Odissi danseuse based in London. She trained for two decades in the lineage of Padmavibhushan (Late) Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra with her Guru Debi Basu in Mumbai and continues to do so. She has been performing, teaching and curating in India and more recently in the UK.
Neelambaree co-founded Madhuriya, London along with a fellow dancer and friend. Its vision is to co-evolve Indian Classical Arts alongside the western forms in the vibrant multicultural scene of the UK. It is this vision that prompts the blog here.
More about her work and interests can be found on www.madhuriya.com