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Divine Dance Nrityagram’s Sacred Space Odissi Performance

Amishi Shah

The lights shone as the dancer took to the center of the stage, accompanied by the soulful music of the classical singer and the orchestra to mesmerize the audience for 90 minutes. The bright costumes and the perfect dance movements added to the beauty of the show. These are only snippets of the Odissi dance performance titled ‘Sacred Space’ by the Nrityagram dance academy in Stamford, Conn that left the audience spellbound with their dancing ability. Namaskar Foundation, based in the city since 1988, organized the program.

Nrityagram and Namaskaar Foundation share an intimate association ever since Protima Gauri was on the forefront of the dance academy. “We had to reschedule our dance program a bit this year because of availability of halls. But we finally made it and this year, Namaskaar Foundation is the only Indian association in the United States for which they performed and it is a matter of pride for us that we could bring such a talented troupe to Connecticut,” said Radha Shrikant, a long time volunteer of Namaskaar Foundation. Vrinda Patel, who is at the forefront of the Foundation said that she was content that four months of hard work put into the event finally paid off well.

Spectators came to the Rich Forum for the dance recital in designer wear and trendy jewelry and some with traditional Indian sarees. It was interesting to note that almost 45% of the audience was non-Indian, who eagerly anticipated to see an Indian dance form with a varied display of colors, ornate dressing and unique make-up. And they were certainly not disappointed at all. They definitely returned home content in their hearts and soul. 

The first dance paid obeisance to the Almighty, Lord Jagannath. The artistes performed to the musical piece, ‘Jagannath Hare’ and captivated the audience in the very first recital itself. What caught the eye was the immaculate synchronization of steps amongst the dancers, sheer body grace, flexibility and eye expressions apart from the beautiful costumes in bright orange and yellow.

The audience enjoyed the feat more since it was evident that the dancers were not only enjoying their recital, but were soaked in the rhythms of music and feeling the devotion to their dance and the Supreme Power. This oneness of the performers with the Higher Being remained throughout the dance performance and kept the viewers mesmerized for the entire show. As is rightly said by the Nrityagram dance academy, this form of dance is a combination of spirituality and sensuality.

The second performance of the evening depicted several different postures as the dancers striked their feet in unison and the walls of the hall resounded with the pleasant sound of the ghunghroo and the feet being tapped gently on the stage. The poses remind one of the ancient carvings seen on the walls of the Indian temples. The audience moved their heads in unison with the beat of the classical music. “It is simply amazing to see the manner in which the artistes explain the meaning of the dance with their hand gestures and expressions as well as with their flexible movements,” appreciated Carrie Lyn Gallagher, a lady who had come Greenwich, Conn to see the program. Another aspect that was keenly noticed by an audience member, Bronwen Evans was the crisp synchronization and the concentration of the artistes for their performance.

A major captivating aspect of the concert was the lead classical singer Dr. Sampada Marballi. Her voice instantly touched the hearts of the spectators. Her devotion to the dance and the Higher Power was a part of the Sanskrit songs that she sang with utmost feelings and clarity. “The voice of the singer was so good that it took me to heaven,” said a senior Indian lady who came to see the Nritygram dance program.

The third dance performance was to depict that the 64 deities that are a part of the religion and which form the basis of the Odissi dance style, also known as ‘Nritya’. The flute that was played in this part enhanced the involvement of the visitors and gave a pristine feeling to the show. Since this was a feat to depict the 64 deities, at the end of this part, one of the dancers lightly threw white flowers on the stage to pay obeisance to the Almighty, the Supreme Deity.

There was a short interval, during which the audience members could not stop appreciating the way they were enjoying the performance and were absolutely lured into the dance. The second half of the dance recital enthralled the audience with the Abhinaya (an Indian dance form of expressions, mime and movement) of two dancers – Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy. The other dancers at the performance were Pavithra Reddy, Ayona Bhaduri, Priyambada Pattnaik and Manasi Tripathy. The first act after the interval showed Lord Krishna’s flirtatious nature and Gopis (ladies who used to be in the fields when Lord Krishna would take his herd for grazing) dancing around him. It depicted Radha being anxious to dance with him. This part had a light and playful theme, with the artistes holding hands at various points as they danced and swung in unison.

Another aspect that caught the eye in the second part was the colors of the costumes. The artistes took to the stage in green, purple, pink and orange sarees and like the first part had their heads adorned with white flowers and a small crown too. On the waist was a broad waistband that made them look like dancers from time immemorial and complimented their dance movements entirely. The headpiece worn on top of the bun was a pointed piece that depicts the tip of the temple. This part of the dance had them jump in the air lightly as well as demonstrate playful expressions and illustrate mischievousness in their eyes.

The final act of the recital was something that shall remain in the memory of the audience for a long time. It depicted Lord Krishna and Radha and their eternal, immortal love for each other that is considered the purest in Indian mythology. Satpathy played the male character of Lord Krishna and Sen the demure Radha. Together they exhibited how Radha is upset and jealous and how Lord Krishna makes desperate attempts to bring her love back. The single posture in the end, where Lord Krishna beckons Radha to put her head on his lotus feet and she relents finally, is breathtaking and remains etched in the mind. Satpathy’s masculine body language to coax the feminine Sen into forgiving him for his playfulness is simply beautiful. Anand Merchant, a visitor at the dance recital from New Britain, Conn said, “We see renditions of Radha-Krishna’s love story so many times and yet every time it appears so enchanting. The artistes’ depiction of emotions felt by Lord Krishna and Radha were really beautiful.”

In an interview with the main choreographer of the show, Surupa Sen, she said that they perform for the mainstream audience and so most of the spectators were non-Indians. “I sincerely hope that Indian people pay money and come to watch their cultural events and dances. Americans would pay out of their pockets to watch American shows and programs, but Indians don’t. I do not have an apprehension against Indians watching pop music programs, but I feel they should come and watch Indian events too,” said Sen.

It has been her observation that over the years, the non-Indian crowds have grown very receptive to Indian cultural forms and that is a major reason they enjoying performing in the United States. “Because of our performances, we have seen almost 35-40 states in this country,” smiled Sen. But this doesn’t come easy. The artistes practice 10-12 hours everyday, and in the one month that they have been here, the performance at Stamford, Conn was their tenth and final performance.


Amishi is a freelance journalist interested in writing about diverse topics ranging from wildlife to art to social stories with a strong human angle as well as current topics. She likes to learn from the positive aspects of the people she meets and loves the fall season of New England. 

She can be reached at amishi.shah80@gmail.com


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