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The dance form now comes packaged in crash courses
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children are lined up obediently in the room, waiting for
the teacher's instructions. The "guru" appears
ill at ease. His steps are hesitant, they refuse to flow.
But he doesn't let that come in the way of teaching his
pupils a rather difficult mudra, one that would take a
Kelucharan Mahapatra five difficult steps in quick
succession -- after years of training -- to perfect. But
this guru has compressed the whole exercise into two easy
steps that can be mastered in less than a month.
He is probably teaching what he has learnt only last week, says an Odissi exponent with contempt. Purists all over Orissa are scoffing at the Odissi-made-easy schools mushrooming in the state. "You ask a blind person to take a walk in Bhubaneswar," says Bidyut Kala Chowdhury, head of the Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, "and he is likely to bump into an Odissi school." Chowdhury may not be exaggerating. At last count, the state capital had at least 150 such schools. The formula: crash courses, small fee, large numbers. The result: instant moolah.
Take the dance school Unit 4 of Bhubaneswar. The teacher is himself a student. He is in the second year of the seven-year degree course in Odissi at Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya. But he is not waiting that long. Degree or no degree, he explains, he has to teach Odissi to earn a living. Tiny tots from the neighbourhood come in droves. The fee is paltry: Rs 40 a month. More important, parents want their wards to learn Odissi, not necessarily master it. It could even be as lucrative a career as, say, tutorials for IITs. "The crass commercialisation is a logical corollary to the changing priorities," says Gangadhar Pradhan, a renowned Odissi teacher.
Ironically, the mad rush to learn Odissi is a result of the exposure that the dance form has received from its exponents like Sonal Mansingh, Madhavi Mudgal and Protima Bedi, who draw big crowds -- and the money. The emphasis now is on capsules: for example, a 10-minute package with bits of components like mangalacharan, abhinaya and botu, all squeezed in. As Ratikanta Mahapatra, son of the legendary Kelucharan Mahapatra, says, "There is demand. But sadly, there is little substance."
The substance now comes in innovative packages, like audio and video cassettes which have simplified do-it-yourself courses. The demands of the market have forced major changes: lasya, the lyricism in the dance, is gradually being replaced by tandava, an unrelated aggressiveness. "Rhythms enthral the crowd more than plain lucidity," says Madhusmita Mohanty, a promising dancer. "Odissi has changed with the onset of the jet age."
The state Government must share the blame for the "corruption" of the classical form. The plight of Aruna Mohanty is a case in point. One of the best new dancers, she secured a national scholarship and went abroad several times. But opportunities dried up. The Government does organise programmes from time to time, but not once in the past three years has Aruna been asked to perform. Several serious exponents, like Chapala Mishra and Saratpriya Pattjoshi, have already given up on live performances in disgust, and taken to teaching in schools.
Orissa, the land where Odissi was born, still has its maestros. Like Gangadhar Pradhan, who teaches Odissi in all its rigorousness and detail at the sprawling beachfront ashram of the Orissa Dance Academy in Konark. Like Kelucharan Mahapatra who, when refused land by the government to set up a dance academy, set one up himself. But people like Mahapatra and Pradhan may now be the last of a dwindling breed of purists. Icons who are revered, not followed.