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April 4, 2006 > Odissi Dance - A journey through time to the sacred temples of India

Odissi Dance - A journey through time to the sacred temples of India

by Sabrina Mahajan

One of the many advantages of living in East Bay is the rich cultural diversity of its people. Residents can experience vivid ethnic traditions, sample culinary delights and appreciate artistic talents from different parts of the world without setting foot on an airplane. One such example is the Odissi dance performance by Nataraj School of Dance at Cal State Hayward on Sunday April 9.

Odissi is a soft and lyrical classical dance form that depicts the ambience of Orissa- an eastern state in India. It owes its origin to the temple dances by the "devadasis" - talented temple dancers. These beautiful female dancers typically spend their entire life mastering this dance. This dance is mentioned in ancient Indian classical literature, depicted on sculptures in temples like the Brahmeswara and the dancing hall of the 12th century Sun Temple at Konark in India.

Traditionally, the Odissi dance was performed only at the temples for privileged audiences. It was first encountered outside the temple in the early 16th century.

Nataraj School of Dance, located at Union City and San Leandro was founded in 1997 by Sima Chakraborty to train students in this ancient dance form. She received part of her training at the prestigious Rabindra Bharati University in India.

Shubha Nagarajan, mother of two girls, Fremont resident, and a student at the Nataraj School of Dance said "The graceful fluidity of Odissi dance makes it very feminine and at the same time gives me an opportunity to experience sculpture-like body movements taken from our temples to the lilting music." She added, "Classical dance such as Odissi requires a lot of concentration in order to coordinate the intricate hand gestures and footwork to the music. The wonderful yogic postures incorporated in the dance help me to discipline my body and keep my mind sharp." She is hopeful that her daughters will also want to learn this dance.

Once a year, the school offers performances to educate and demonstrate this ancient temple dance form to the public. This Sunday's performance will be divided into the following sections:

This is the traditional opening piece of an Odissi concert. The dancer begins by offering flowers to Lord Jagannath to seek his blessings for an auspicious beginning. A salutation or an offering of respect to Mother Earth, seeking her forgiveness, follows. The dancers invoke the Hindu deity, Lord Vishnu, the compassionate one, and his consort goddess Lakshmi, who appears from the Milky Ocean. She prays to the Lord to destroy all evil and to lift the burden of misfortune on the mortals.

Ananda Bhairabi
Pallavi is a pure dance piece in the Odissi repertoire and is based heavily on rhythmic patterns. Music is the lifeblood of Odissi dance. The dancer's feet and expressions vie with the tempo of the music. In this non-antagonistic conflict, the dancer merges with the rhythm of the music to create the purest art form.

Saveri Pallavi
Here the dance is woven together with a series of lyrical movements bringing out the elaborate grace and charm of Odissi. The "elaboration" or "blossoming" characteristic of a Pallavi is apparent both in the gradual transformation of the music and the dance. It starts with slow, graceful, lyrical movements of the eyes, neck, torso, and feet, followed by a gradual unfolding of Odissi's sensuous beauty, building in a crescendo to climax in a fast tempo.

Costumes, which consist of elaborate headpieces and stunning silver jewelry for the performance, are specially designed and ordered from Orissa. There are about 28 dancers ranging from 7 to 40 years old who will be enticing the audience with intricate hand gestures and footwork, simultaneously moving with the rhythm of the music.

To learn more about this program call Sima at (510) 429-8422.

Odissi Dance Performance
Sunday, April 9
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Main Theater
California State University, East Bay
25800 Carlos Bee Boulevard, Hayward
Tickets: $10 for adults, Students $5
Children under 5: free.

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