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'We live and breathe dance'

For an entire week, starting this Saturday, three Odissi dancers will be in the city, talking to people, performing and sharing the experience of making dance their life. These dancers have been living for almost two decades in Nrityagram, a residential dance institute started by Protima Gauri in 1990 on the outskirts of Bangalore. Through brilliant dance performances and interactive workshops, the dancers from Nrityagram hope to introduce dance enthusiasts in the city to the beauty and spirituality of making dance a way of life.

Such week-long programmes have been organised by Nrityagram in other countries, but this is the first time it is being done in India. “It helps introduce dance in a deeper way to the audience. Apart from performances, when there are lecture demonstrations and interactive sessions, the audience gets a better understanding of dance,” explains Surupa Sen, the artistic director of Nrityagram.


Samhara: The Braid, a collaborative piece between Odissi and Kandyan dance

In Nrityagram, dancers have not just made dance their way of life but they are also constantly working on expanding the vocabulary of dance. One such effort is reflected in the dance piece, titled Samhara: The Braid, which has resulted from a long association with the Chitrasena Dance Company in Sri Lanka. The piece brings together Odissi and the Kandyan dance from Sri Lanka. “Kandyan dance is a ritualistic dance performed in the temples.

Today, it has evolved a great deal. For four years, we constantly visited Sri Lanka and lived and learnt the dance form. We created the collaborative dance piece together and it was a beautiful process,” says Sen. It is believed that the Kandyan dance has its origins in the exorcism ritual and this piece will be seen for the first time in Mumbai, on September 2.


Surupa Sen and Bijayani Satpathy during an Odissi performance

Apart from this, there will be a Kandyan dance workshop conducted by the Chitrasena Dance Company, a workshop for school kids, a master class for dancers by Nrityagram, a panel discussion and an Odissi duet by Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy, Director of Odissi Gurukul at Nrityagram. “Dance is breath for all of us and this kind of a programme helps us share our experience,” says Satpathy, who joined Nrityagram in 1993, and since then, has stayed on. But, it was not that simple. She had to face a lot of opposition from her family and she believes even today many girls have to face that. “But, I give them my example. When my family realised how happy I was, they came around,” she adds.

In Nrityagram, apart from the many hours they devote to dance, they also practise yoga and try to study different scriptures and texts to get a deeper understanding of dance. “We studied the Natya Shastra and we also study the cultures of Orissa, so as to push the boundaries of the dance. We devise new training methods; we make it scientific and injury proof. We try to add different flavours that can be included in the
choreography,” explains Satpathy.

For the students of Nrityagram, it truly is a gurukul system of study where dance is imbued not just by the body, but by the spirit as well. “The students live the philosophy of dance. Dance and life get a deeper meaning and there is immense inner growth. It makes the dancers empowered,” says Satpathy. “It is a transformative experience. You eat, breathe and sleep dance. I feel it is the best way to learn. You practise dance as you practise life,” adds Sen.

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