DanceWatch Weekly: Embracing Odissi in the Age of Trump

The multi-faceted Odissi form of Indian dance leads away from the hierarchies of Western dance

Since Donald Trump took office, I have been watching and admiring artists all around the world react to his words and policies and have been wondering how I should respond myself. Last October, I began seriously studying the dance form of Odissi with Yashaswini Raghuram, an Odissi dancer and teacher in Portland and a disciple of Shrimati Aparupa Chatterjee. One of India’s eight classical dance forms, Odissi originated in India’s eastern state of Odisha. I think that my choice to step away from my Western dance practices and focus solely on Odissi is my response. The more degraded American culture gets, the less interested I am in being a part of it.

After India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947, there was a huge movement to revive India’s lost cultures which had been systematically dismantled by the British during their 200 year reign. Dance in India had not been spared, and as a result, dancers had been deemed morally inferior and dancing in public became a criminal offense, thus destroying the entire system in which dance had thrived for thousands of years. Odissi as we know it today began its revival in 1957 with a group of Orissan artists called the Jayantika.

Odissi, which is deeply rooted in Jagannath culture and Hindu religious practices, draws from the Mahari tradition (temple dancers), Gotipua tradition (male dancers who dress as women), and the Bandha Nritya and Chau martial arts traditions. It also draws on information gleaned from the relief sculptures on temple walls and from the ancient Sanskrit text on the performing arts called the Natya Shastra, written by Bharata Muni sometime between 200 BCE and 500 CE.

Odissi combines emotional expression with intricate footwork, sculptural poses, and storytelling. In Odissi, every part of the body is involved in the dance, from the eyes down to the toes, and all the parts move independently. Odissi has two stances, chaukha and tribhangi, that all of the dances are built on. Chaukha is a wide, deeply bent, turned-out position (rotated outward from the hip socket), very similar to ballet’s second position. Tribhangi means “three parts break” and consists of three bends in the body (at the neck, waist and knee), which creates an “S” curve in the body. There are 10 steps in chauka and tribhangi that correspond to the number of beats in each step.

I find Odissi to be a wholly satisfying experience. It’s athletically rigorous, graceful, technical, emotional, spiritual and incredibly challenging to do. I also love that in Odissi, and classical Indian dance in general, older dancers are revered and do not stop performing when they are deemed “too old” by society as it’s done here in the West. Some dances in the Odissi repertoire aren’t even taught until a dancer reaches 40, because it’s believed that younger dancers don’t yet have the emotional depth and life experience to properly express what the dance is about. Odissi also doesn’t have strict rules on body shape and size as Western dance culture does. What is considered beautiful is much broader in Indian dance culture.

Whenever I watch an Odissi dancer, I imagine that I am seeing the sounds of the instruments emanating from the movements of the dancer’s body. I see the drum when the dancer’s feet strike the floor; the softer, more melodic sounds when the torso and arms move; the metallic ding of the rhythmic brass cymbals when the head moves side to side, causing the sway of the Jhumkas, the bell-shaped earrings that many dancers wear. In Odissi, the dancer is the personification of the music.

This week I am learning a six-minute dance from the Odissi repertoire called a Megh Pallavi, a dance depicting the rain and clouds, choreographed by Guru Ratikant Mohapatra; my teacher’s teacher’s teacher and the son of the great Odissi dance guru Shri Kelucharan Mohapatra. I will be performing it on Sunday in the company of some of the world’s most renowned Odissi dancers as part of the 8th Kelucharan Guna Keertanam, an Odissi dance festival produced by the Odissi Dance Company, a company my teacher dances for under the direction of her teacher, artistic director Shrimati Aparupa Chatterjee.

The festival is an homage to the late Shri Kelucharan Mohapatra, a legendary Indian classical dancer, guru, and exponent of Odissi dance who is credited with being part of the revival and popularizing of this dance form in the 20th century. It will take place at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Portland, 3 p.m. Sunday, September 23. Shri Kelucharan Mohapatra’s son, Guru Shri Ratikant Mohapatra, will also be performing, along with Shrimati Aparupa Chatterjee and the Odissi Dance Company, Dr. Shrimati Ratna Roy and the Urvasi Dance Ensemble from Washington, as well as many others.

There is so much more I could tell you about Odissi, but I think the best way to experience it is to see.

Performances this week

Aureum
An Aerial and Acrobatic Adventure Tale
Produced by Halcyon Shows
September 21-22
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Avenue
Through music, storytelling, acrobatics, and aerial dancing, the magical world of Aureum comes to life as it is discovered by a young academic who created a key that allowed him to travel there. The cast includes a former Olympic bobsledder turned aerialist, professional dancers, graduates of the New England Center for Circus Arts and École de Cirque de Québec and a specialist in acrobatic archery.

Dancers dancing at Lan Su Chinese Garden. Photo courtesy of Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Autumn Moon Festival, Lan Su Chinese Garden
3-9 pm September 22
239 Northwest Everett Street
Lan Su Chinese Garden, 239 Northwest Everett Street and Community Festival Lot, NW Flanders and 3rd Ave
Celebrating the harvest moon, when the moon appears at its fullest during the autumnal equinox, Lan Su Chinese Garden will host a celebration that includes dance performances every half-hour by White Lotus Dragon and Lion Dance, Portland Chinese Dance Troupe, Ka Lei Hali’a O Ka Lokelani, Chinese Friendship Association of Portland, Cambodian Dance Troupe, Lee’s Association Dragon and Lion Dance Team and more.

Super dancer Carlyn Hudson leaping through the cosmos. Photo by Design By Goats.

Some Are Silver
Carlyn Hudson
September 22 and 29
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave.
Portland choreographer Carlyn Hudson presents Some Are Silver, an evening collection of two world premieres and several older works that effortlessly slip between contemporary dance, ballet and vaudeville, and weave together humor, heartache and beauty. The choreography reflects an array of contrasting ideas performed to the vibrations of jazz, classical, and folk music. The cast includes Briley Jozwiak, Amelia Unsicker, Elle Crowley, Anna Marra, Kara Girod, Mari Kai Juras, and Hudson.

Hudson, originally from Nyack, New York, is the daughter of a dancer and a visual artist/woodworker. She attained her BFA in Dance from SUNY Purchase, performed with Connecticut Ballet and co-founded SubRosa Dance Collective in 2011 with Cerrin Lathrop, Jessica Evans, Kailee McMurran, Lena Traenkenschuh, Tia Palomino and Zahra Banzi.

A young Ballet Fiesta performer. Photo courtesy of Hillsboro ArtFest.

Hillsboro ArtFest on the Plaza
City of Hillsboro
9-1:30 pm September 22
Civic Center, 150 E. Main Street, Hillsboro
FREE
Celebrating Hillsboro’s art and culture, ArtFest will feature dance performances by Ballet Fiesta, a children’s dance company dedicated to promoting Mexican culture through dance, Hawaiian dance by Hula Halau ‘Ohana Holo’oko’a, and the western dance traditions of ballet, tap, and jazz with New Vision Dance. The festival also includes performances by other art forms such as music, singing, theatre and magic.

“Miranda” by Eleven Dance Co. Photo by Jake Kaempf.

Miranda
11: Dance Co.
Choreography by Bb DeLano made in collaboration with the company dancers
7 pm September 23
Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 SW Capitol Hwy
“If the disintegration of everything is inevitable, is there any hope?” This is the question that 11: Dance Co. poses in their new three-act, full-length production, Miranda. Combining urban and classical dance forms, Miranda will be performed in a gallery setting with the audience moving from “exhibit” to “exhibit.”

Performers include a who’s who of Portland’s vibrant dance scene: Brandon M. Avant, Ruby Guenther, Kristalyn Gill Earley, Brittany Hortert, Jamae Ann Sabangan, MacKenzie Schuller, Sonja Jean, Jessica McCarthy, Simeon Jacob, Ryan Houlberg, JuJu Nikz, Raven Jones, Daniel Shinseki, Amanda Hoban, Jassa Gunn, Andrew de la Paz, Claire Novick, Joshua Alexander Bonifacio, Bethany Giurlani, Casey Holzman, and Brianna Nerud.

The late Shri Kelucharan Mohapatra, a legendary Indian classical dancer, guru, and exponent of Odissi dance. Photo courtesy of Yashaswini Raghuram.

8th Kelucharan Guna Keertanam Odissi dance festival
Presented by the Odissi Dance Company, Pratham Portland, and Ken Han of Danos Capital LLC
Featuring Guru Shri Ratikant Mohapatra, Dr. Smt Ratna Roy and the Urvasi Dance Ensemble, Dr. Smt.Aparupa Chatterjee and The Odissi dance company, and more!
3 pm September 23
First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1126 SW Park Avenue
See above.

Bricolage
Presented by Cilla Vee Life Arts
Performance Works NW Visiting Artist
7:30 pm September 26
Performance Works NorthWest, 4625 SE 67th Avenue
Curated by South Bronx artists Claire Elizabeth Barratt (aka Cilla Vee), this eclectic evening of dance, music, poetry, imagery and performance art, draws together a diverse group of Portland artists to create the unexpected. Artists included are Cilla Vee, Linda Austin, Caspar Sonnet, Tim DuRoche, Tim Connell, Colin Manning, Megan McKissack, Alex Dang, plus others.

Upcoming Performances

September
September 27-29, Carmen + World Premiere, NW Dance Project
September 29-30, Ahmet Luleci, Presented by Ruby Beh
September 30, China In Dance, Presented by American Asian Performing Arts Theatre

October
October 4-6, Come to your senses, Pilobolus, Presented by White Bird
October 5-6, Shiny Angles in Angular Time, Melinda Ring and Renée Archibald
October 6-13, Napoli, Oregon Ballet Theatre
October 6-7, Hamlet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
October 9, The New Chinese Acrobats, Eugene
October 11-15, Portland Tango Festival
October 11-16, Circa, Presented by White Bird
October 11-20, Bloody Vox: Deadline October, BodyVox
October 12-13, Change(d) Together, The Circus Project
October 12-20, A Spine Tingling Soiree, Wild Rumpus Jazz Co.
October 12-21, Portland Dance Film Fest
October 18-20, Lucy Guerin Inc, Presented by White Bird
October 19, Everything’s Copacetic, The Skylark Tappers
October 20, As You Like It-A Wild West Ballet, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
October 20-21, The Man Who Forgot, The Portland Tap Company
October 26, Star Dust, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Eugene
October 26, Flamenco Pacifico, Presented by Berto Boyd
October 28, Matices Criollos, Peruvian Cultural Festival

November
November 2-4, A Midsummer Night at the Savoy, Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre
November 4, civilized-Happy Hour, Catherine Egan
November 9-11, Cloth, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 11, La Sylphide, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
November 13-14, The Hip Hop Nutcracker, Jennifer Weber
November 14, Tangueros del Sur, Presented by White Bird
November 16-18, Perceiving The Constant, Jessica Hightower
November 23-25, A Midsummer Night’s Dream with PSU Orchestra, The Portland Ballet

December
December 2, Don Quixote, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
December 6-8, Winter Performance, NW Dance Project
December 8, So You Think You Can Dance Live! 2018, Eugene
December 8-25, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 14-16, Babes in Toyland (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
December 21-23, The Nutcracker, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
December 23, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live

January 2019
January 9-20, The Lion King, Eugene
January 20, La Bayadère, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
January 24-February 2, The Cutting Room, BodyVox
January 31-February 2, Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art, Presented by White Bird

February
February 9-10, Romeo and Juliet, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
February 13, Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo, Presented by White Bird
February 16-23, Cinderella, Oregon Ballet Theatre
February 20, Beijing Dance Theater, Presented by White Bird
February 28-March 2, Compagnie Hervé Koubi, Presented by White Bird
February 29-March 2, Trip The Light Fantastic, NW Dance Project

March
March 1-3, The Odyssey, Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
March 1-3, Materialize, PDX Contemporary Ballet
March 7-9, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Presented by White Bird
March 8-10, Interplay, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
March 9, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company, Walters Cultural Arts Center
March 10, The Sleeping Beauty, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
March 29-31, New Expressive Works Residency Performance

April
April 4-6, Parsons Dance, Presented by White Bird
April 4-13, The Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox
April 7, The Golden Age, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
April 9-10, Savion Glover, Presented by White Bird
April 11-14, Director’s Choice, Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 13-14, The Firebird, Eugene Ballet, Eugene
April 24, Philadanco, Presented by White Bird
April 25-27, Spring Performance, NW Dance Project

May
May 9-11, Contact Dance Film Festival, BodyVox and NW Film Center
May 10-12, Shaun Keylock Company
May 10-12, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, Cleopatra (World Premiere), Ballet Fantastique, Eugene
May 17-19, Undone, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 19, Carmen Suite / Petrushka, Bolshoi Ballet in cinema-Live from Moscow, presented by Fathom Events, BY Experience, and Pathe Live
May 26, Derek Hough: Live! The Tour, Eugene

June
June 7-15, The Americans, Oregon Ballet Theatre
June 7-9, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 13-15, Summer Performances, NW Dance Project

One Response.

  1. Thanks for finally writing about >Embracing Odissi in the Age of
    Trump | Oregon ArtsWatch <Liked it!

Comments are closed.