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Madhavi Mudgal - Odissi Dance Par Excellence

Vanita Shastri

Meru Education Foundation Inc. proudly presents renowned Odissi dancer Madhavi Mudgal and the Gandharva Dance Ensemble at the National Heritage Museum, in Lexington, MA on Saturday, September 10, 2005.

Madhavi Mudgal is a dancer who reflects excellence in all aspects, and her performances are highly aesthetic and moving. She has won wide-acclaim all over the world. In 2002, the The Times of London wrote that, “ the high point of Edinburgh Dance Festival was the Odissi by Madhavi Mudgal ... it emanated from an inner calm, with decisive architecture in time and space”. The New York Times wrote, “… Madhavi Mudgal’s seasoned virtuosity was a foregone conclusion, she is a legend.”

She is especially known for her subtle Abhinaya and choreography, and she has won many awards. These include the Sanskriti Award in 1985, the Padmashri, a President of India award, for her contribution to classical dance in 1991. Among other awards she has received are the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, and the Chevalier des l’ordre des arts et des lettres by the Govt. of France.

Odissi, The Dance Form

Odissi refers to the dance style of the state of Orissa in eastern India. Like other classical arts of India, this ancient dance style had suffered a decline as temples and artists lost the patronage of local rulers and princely states and by the 1930s, there were very few surviving practitioners of the art.

Dedicated scholars and dance enthusiasts carefully researched manuscripts and studied the sculpture, painting and poetry of the region, and observed the few existing performers. Then they revived and restructured Odissi as a unique classical dance style adapted to the requirements of formal stage presentation. Over the years Odissi has evolved into one of the most popular classical dance styles.

A number of people helped the process by crystallizing the repertoire and training new performers and teachers including great gurus like Kelu Charan Mohapatra, Pankaj Charan Das, Mayadhar Raut, Deba Prasad Das and Hare Krishna Behera.

Like other Indian classical dance forms, Odissi has two major facets: Nritta or non-representational dance, in which sculpturesque patterns are created using body movements in space and time, and Abhinaya, or stylized mime in which symbolic hand movements and facial expressions are used to interpret a story or theme.

The two unique aspects of Odissi dance includes the repeated use of the tribhangi, or thrice-deflected posture, in which the body is bent in three places, approximating the shape of a helix. This posture and the characteristic shifting of the torso from side to side, adds a particular style to Odissi.  When mastered, it is the epitome of fluid grace and has a distinctively lyrical quality of this form. The second aspect is the chauk, or the representation of the square, which highlights the tandav aspect of the dance.

The Odissi repertoire is made up of traditional dance pieces formulated in the distant past when it was used in temple worship, others arise from the great Indian spiritual writings, such as poetry and epics, and finally there are modern pieces, which are the inspired work of great gurus.
The divine love tales of Radha and the cowherd Krishna are favorite themes for interpretation, and a typical recital of Odissi will contain at least one or two ashtapadis (poem of eight couplets) from Jayadeva's Gita Govinda, which describes in exquisite Sanskrit poetry the complex relationship between Radha and her Lord.

My Guru, Madhavi Mudgal

Madhavi was born into a family steeped in classical Indian arts. Her father, Pandit Vinay Chandra Maudgalya was the founder of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi's highly reputed institution for the teaching of Hindustani music and classical dance.

Madhavi began her training in dance at a very young age and learnt Kathak and Bharatnatyam before she turned to Odissi as her preferred medium. Her initial training in Odissi began under Guru Hare Krishna Bahera and later she became a leading disciple of legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra of Orissa. Madhavi Mudgal embodies the elegance and sophistication that result from blending modern sensibilities with the ancient ethos of eastern India that epitomizes the highly lyrical dance form of Odissi.

Madhavi's command over the nritta or the pure dance aspect of Odissi is striking. Her delicate postures and strong rhythmic footwork combine in an appealing flow of sculpturesque movements. Her subtle Abhinaya (expressional dance), musical knowledge and aesthetic sense add to the highly distinctive character of her recitals and bring a greatly refined sensibility to her art form.

Through teaching and performing, Madhavi has been actively involved in propagating the art of Odissi all over the world. She has trained a number of accomplished students who are celebrated performers in their own right. Madhavi firmly believes that tradition is an incessant, rejuvenating stream, which is reflected in her choreography. 

It is indeed a great honor to host Madhavi, my guru, friend and mentor and bring her performance to the Boston area. Her performance on September 10th will be a presentation of her current Odissi choreography as she and her troupe explore its potential in both group and solo presentations. This is a rare opportunity to see her and the Gandharva troupe and I invite you all to the performance this Saturday, September 10th at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, MA at 6:30 pm.

For more information visit www.merufoundation.org  or at www.sulekha.com/boston.

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