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Monday, Aug 19, 2019

Odissi on High: A Malaysian stalwart brings modern steps to a classical form

Ramli Ibrahim kicks off an India tour with a 90-minute performance at the NCPA.

mumbai Updated: May 08, 2019 19:44 IST
Vanessa Viegas
Vanessa Viegas
Hindustan Times
There’s a lot about the classical performance that’s different– there is group choreography rather than a solo performance, the moves are high-intensity, there are multimedia graphics and dramatic lighting.
There’s a lot about the classical performance that’s different– there is group choreography rather than a solo performance, the moves are high-intensity, there are multimedia graphics and dramatic lighting.
         
Odissi On High
  • WHEN: May 9, 6.30pm
  • WHERE: National Centre for the Performing Arts, Nariman Point
  • Ticket prices start at Rs 200; tickets are available online

Of India’s major classical dances, many would argue that Odissi has changed the least. Sure, the devotional form once performed by temple devadasis now includes male dancers. There are more acrobatic moves too. But performances tend to be measured by how well one adheres to a traditional template.

Ushering in change is Malaysian Odissi exponent Ramli Ibrahim, who debuts his show Odissi on High, kicking off an India tour at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) on May 9. There’s a lot Ibrahim does differently – there is group choreography rather than a solo performance, the moves are high-intensity, there are multimedia graphics and dramatic lighting. Even the costumes are a surprise. His women performers wear the top and dhoti, rather than the traditional sari.

And yet, the 90-minute performance is indisputably rooted in classical traditions. Odissi on High draws on 13 male and female dancers to focus on the evolution of the pallavi genre of pure dance. Guru Bichitrananda Swain of Bhubaneswar co-directs this piece with Ibrahim, weaving in the templates set by two Odissi stalwarts.

Odissi on High draws on 13 male and female dancers to focus on the evolution of the pallavi genre of pure dance.
Odissi on High draws on 13 male and female dancers to focus on the evolution of the pallavi genre of pure dance.

“We’re working with the Shankarabaranam pallavi created by the late Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra and the Kolabati pallavi by Guru Debaprasad Das,” says Ibrahim. “The work is not narrative, there are no overt anecdotes,” he warns. Think instead of the classical rules as starting points to explore a moving collage of something new.

A Malaysian citizen, Ibrahim has a 40-year history of working with Bharatanatyam, Odissi and ballet, and received the Padma Shri last year. Odissi on High opened at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre in Malaysia’s capital in 2018, to great acclaim.

Swapnokalpa Das, curator of the event and the head of dance programming at the NCPA, says there is more to the show than artistic novelty and experimentation. She says it’s a first-of-its-kind collaboration between India and Malaysia, both nations that share a deep admiration for Odissi.

“Odissi is going international and breaking boundaries,” she says. “Look at ballet. It is no longer only associated with Russia; it has transcended the place of its origin. Similarly, our Indian dance forms such as Odissi are on the path to getting popularised, being learnt and practised beyond geographical boundaries.”

First Published: May 08, 2019 19:44 IST

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