A recipient of the prestigious Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar from the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi (New Delhi) and the Kempegowda Award, Madhulita Mohapatra has carved a niche for herself as one of the leading Odissi exponents in south India. An ‘A’ grade artiste of National Doordarshan (DD National) & an empanelled artiste of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), she has received several prestigious awards. A disciple of Guru Shri Gangadhar Pradhan, Guru Smt. Aruna Mohanty, Guru Shri Pabitra Kumar Pradhan & Guru Krushnachandra Sahoo, she is admired & applauded by the connoisseurs & critics alike, for her profound artistry and her innate abhinaya quality. She is devoted to the promotion and popularisation of Odissi in South India through her institution, Nrityantar. She spoke to Kaleidoculture about her exploration of this classical dance form.
Briefly describe your journey in Odissi.
I was born in Bhawanipatna in the Kalahandi district of Odisha. The region is known for its lively and colourful tribal and folk art forms, especially Sambalpuri dance. I have loved dancing since I was very young. It was Guru Shri Bhimsen Sahoo who initiated me into Sambalpuri folk dance, which I then proceeded to perform extensively. I always dreamt of learning and dancing Odissi. Luckily, an Odissi institution opened, although very late, when my first Odissi guru, Shri Krushnachandra Sahoo moved to Bhawanipatna from Bhubaneswar. I started learning under him. After school, I moved to Bhubaneshwar to study further and here, I joined Odisha Dance Academy and started learning there under the guidance of Padma Shri Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, Guru Aruna Mohanty & Guru Pabitra Kumar Pradhan. I completed my Masters in Commerce & Business Administration. My dance was suffering because of my job. So after I got married, I quit working to become a full time Odissi dancer and teacher. I moved to Bengaluru, started my own institution and have been able to promote Odissi however I can.
Whatever I have achieved, I owe to my gurus. I’m fortunate and blessed to have a guru like Guru Smt. Aruna Mohanty as my guide, mentor and inspiration.
What does Odissi mean to you as a dancer and teacher?
Curvaceous movements, sculptured poses, fluid grace, and impeccable rhythm characterise this vibrant dance form. For me, Odissi is my life – I cannot imagine myself without it. While dancing, the joy and bliss I get makes me feel like I’m one with the art and the divine. Odissi is my connection and surrender to the Supreme. It is a source of spiritual inspiration for me that emotionally elevates from mundane worries of the world. It was always my wish to promote and serve Odissi in every capacity. This wish of mine was granted when I moved to Bengaluru. I started teaching children on weekends. The numbers of students grew and that is how Nrityantar (my Odissi dance institution) came into existence. I also started taking classes at other places and some schools to promote the dance form. I consider myself fortunate to have had the support of a number of people from various spheres. I have been in Bengaluru for eleven years, all of which have been enriching and motivating.
Have you experimented with the dance form? If so, how?
Consisting of vast vocabularies and having survived through the ages as a tradition, our classical dances have the potential to convey both, the traditional and the contemporary. Their ability to convey contemporary ideas have always given infinite freedom for expression of the artistic self. An effective choreography is possible without diluting the essential classical purity of the dance form.
In my choreographic works, I try to explore and innovate with movements from the expansive classical vocabulary in order to produce fresh pieces that enhance the aesthetic experience. However, I make sure that my experiments are within the classical framework and do not compromise on the purity of classical Odissi.
For example, I have worked on and presented a thematic piece on the popular story of Savitri & Satyavan, retold in a relevant and contemporary context of women empowerment. Other pieces that I have tried to innovate on include a dance presentation on a Kannada devarnama, Hari Smarane Mado and two powerful songs Shivam Dhimahi and Ishwari. Satyam Prema Amaram, an Odissi dance ballet that I presented was based on the tragic love story of Mirza & Sahiba, a popular folklore from Punjab.
How is Odissi being taken forward by the younger generations?
In Bengaluru, Odissi came almost three decades ago, when the famed dance village Nrityagram was established in the outskirts of the city at Hasserghatta by renowned Odissi exponent, late Protima Bedi. Eleven years ago, when I started teaching at many government schools, the children were not familiar with Odissi – the only classical style most knew was Bharathanatyam. Now a lot of them proudly say that they are learning Odissi. We have more than 300 students learning the dance form at the six branches of Nrityantar in the city and our outreach programmes have reached many more. With more practitioners, learners, aspirants & Odissi enthusiasts in the city of Bengaluru and other parts of the world, I see that the interest of people in learning Odissi is increasing. When I travel outside India as well, for performances, classes and workshops, I find that keenness towards Odissi is continuously growing. Audiences are appreciating the dance form more, with growing interest in participating in and learning the dance form.