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AANANTYA: An Evening of Inter-generational Magic

By Devanshi Panda

On the 16th of March, in honour of Women's History Month, all of Delhi's most reputed dancers and artists gathered for an evening of Odissi and more at the Chinmaya Auditorium.

Photo and Poster Design: Saanvri

For those unfamiliar, 'Odissi' is a form of Indian classical dance that originated in the temples of Odisha, India. Predominantly performed by women, it is a dance-drama performance art, where artists and musicians perform a story, a spiritual message, or a devotional poem. At the Chinmaya Auditorium In New Dehli, ‘Aanantya’ or "that which is eternal", brought together three generations of Odissi dancers - renowned Guru Smt. Sharon Lowen, Nitisha Nanda, and Perrine Legoulon: perfectly exemplifying the ‘Guru-Shishya parampara’ (teacher-disciple tradition) stage.

The programme started with Mangalacharan, the customary ode to the gods and the audience. Nanda and Legoulon began with a unique, trance-like cyclical movement, their bodies in perfect synchronization, and seamlessly transitioned into the choreography. 

Each performance was preceded by the artist taking center stage to tell their story, an element that I particularly feel needs to be included more in classical dance performances to provide audiences with context clues, and to connect both the viewer and the performer on a personal level. Legoulon talked of her journey of falling in love with Odissi, and taking the bold decision of moving to India to hone her craft. This was followed by ‘Sthayee’, a pure dance, performed by Legoulon, and her command over the completion of complex poses was remarkable. 

The highlight of the evening was a fresh new choreography by Nitisha Nanda on spring. The all women music ensemble created a special melody based on Vivaldi's ‘Spring’ from the Four Seasons. Keeping the music score more or less intact, they overlaid Hindustani classical notes onto it, creating nothing short of magic. Nanda depicted the joy and beauty of the month of spring by using the language of dance to create various lively images such as that of bees buzzing, peacocks dancing, and deer prancing. Her artistic vision brought the performance to life, and the cheerful music composed added to the splendour of this fusion of Western and Hindustani classical music, without seeming like a disjointed venture.  

Before her solo performance, Smt. Guru Sharon Lowen talked of the shock of a foreigner visiting from UC Berkeley upon observing the ‘erotic’ dance of Odissi at one of her shows. She talked of the utility and beauty of the so-called ‘erotic’ in dance, before delving into the intricacies of the dance item she would perform - Kurujadonananda- an abhinaya piece depicting Radha’s requests from Krishna after a session of lovemaking. Lowen’s refinement of dance and the charming simplicity of her expressions continue to leave an indelible impact on the audience. This was followed by the last performance, ‘Moksha’, where all three dancers joined hands to conclude the evening.

Between all the performances, the musicians too took to the stage to share their stories, inspirations, and how they ended up in their respective crafts. Aaswari Srivastava (vocals) shared her own tale about having to travel from Chandigarh to Ambala in order to take music classes in her childhood, while Namrata Dave (mardala) talked of growing up in an environment that was always infused with music. The show ended with an interactive discussion, where the floor was opened up for questions and comments. An audience member praised Nathalie Ramirez’s (flutist) command over her instrument, and they marveled at how despite utilising only very few instruments, there did not appear to be anything missing from the accompanying music. The artistic director Poorvaja Kumar was asked how she managed to conceive of each detail of the event, and she shared the intense collaborative effort between her and Nanda.

It is perhaps best to end with a truthful, yet unfortunate reality that Nanda highlighted in the discussion:

"I planned to keep this event in March, the month designated to ‘celebrate’ women. Even though we say that we should celebrate women all year round, that seldom happens, and if I had kept this event in another month, many people would not have showed up.”

Sadly, classical dance still remains inaccessible for the uninitiated, despite attempts at fusion and modernisation. Perhaps there is a need for greater publicity and youth involvement, so that future generations may preserve cultures while adopting fresh perspectives of thinking at the same time.


About the Writer:

Devanshi is an undergrad history student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi with the memory of a goldfish (the irony is not lost on her). She is the Editor-in-Chief of the LSR College Magazine and her poetry has been published in many university magazines. Her words have also appeared in the Monograph Magazine and one of her essays has been published in a food anthology by Nivaala and the Alipore Post. Devanshi is particularly interested in weaving tales on personal experiences, art, culture, and the confluence of fashion and history. She hopes to own a bookcase that leads into a secret chamber one day.


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