17 July, 2013

Dancing the Divinity - A Taste of Sattriya by Anwesa Mahanta

(Pic Courtesy : asiasociety.org via Google)

When one thinks of Classical Indian Dance forms, the ones that immediately come to mind are dance forms like Bharatnatyam and Kathak.  These are the more well known dance forms that people have been exposed to and as a result, have become almost synonymous with Indian Classical Dance.  There are eight traditional Indian Classical Dance forms and Sattriya is one of them.  The core of Sattriya Nritya is said to be one of presenting mythological narratives to people in a manner that makes it easy for one to comprehend the essence behind that story.

When I registered to attend  “Dancing the Divinity – A Taste of Sattriya”, truth be told, it was more out of curiosity than out of any kind of knowledge about this classical dance form.  I had not heard much about this dance form and needless to say, I’d never watched it being performed.  So yeah, curiosity egged me on and I ended up at Asia Society yesterday for the Sattriya Dance Recital by Anwesa Mahanta.

I got there a few minutes late because getting to Asia Society proved to be a treasure hunt of sorts and this feeling was further exemplified in my efforts to locate the Miller Theatre (where the performance was being held).  As we neared the theatre, we could hear strains of Indian classical music drifting out through the open door.  The simplicity of the music was rather tantalizing and the rhythmic beats, captivating.  Interesting, I mused, as we walked in and perched on a couple of seats at the back.

The next hour or so proved to be an eye opener beyond imagination.  What we were introduced to yesterday afternoon, was a classical Indian Dance form that left its mark on the mind as one of the most gentle, expressive forms of art.   Ms.Mahanta narrated two stories through her dances yesterday and in both her dance narratives, she played more than one role. 

One dance narrative was the Prahlada Charitra – the ego and anger of the father, King Hiranyakashipu on the one hand and the humbleness, humility and the lack of arrogance in his son Prahlada.  The entire folklore where Hiranyakashipu scornfully questions the presence of an Universal Force and Prahlada’s unswerving piety and faith in Lord Vishnu  were expressed beautifully through sinuously fluid hand movements, graceful body language and the immensely expressive eye movement.  The beauty of the dance also lay in the fact that Ms.Mahanta conveyed the expressions of both the characters with equal panache and the jump from one character to another was noticeable yet very smooth.  One moment, she was the pious Prahlada, exuding virtuosity and the very next moment, she would turn into the raging Hiranyakashipu, powerful, furious and intense.  It was nothing short of enthralling.

The other dance that she performed was the one in which she played the roles of Satyabhama and Krishna where Satyabhama is offended and sulks over Krishna having given the Parijata to Rukmini.  Yet again, the portrayal of Satyabhama, I’m sure, brought about many smiles yesterday afternoon.  It was beautifully depicted with a charming poise of an artiste totally immersed in the story that she was narrating through her dance.

The audience was also given a background into the Sattriya form of dance through a short video which explained that till date, there are no written manuscripts for this dance form.  Instructions are passed on and the dance is taught only through oral instructions.  Another feature about this dance form that stands out is the absence of anklets.  The performers do not wear anklets when performing the Sattriya dance which probably just adds to the aura of gentleness that this art form exemplifies.

Ms.Mahanta also pointed out during the question and answer session towards the end of the performance that in the Sattriya form of dance, the artistes actually withhold energy and it is a carefully timed release of energy rather than the sudden expulsion of energy that symbolizes other Indian classical dance forms.  Also, when the artistes jump, their feet make absolutely no sound when they land on stage after the jump and one can only imagine how much of practice, discipline and restraint it must take to be so fluid and graceful and yet so soft footed. 

My sincere appreciation and thanks to Ms.Mahanta for presenting an experience that was culturally enriching and inspiring and my heartfelt thanks to SPIC MACAY for helping make this event happen.

We look forward to many more and here’s wishing Ms.Mahanta the very best in all her future endeavors.

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