Odissi Dance Recital by Smita Panigrahi

June 19, 2019 at Ahilya Devi Holkar School, Pune

An Account by Namrata Shah
I had heard about Baithak Foundation over a year ago and had been keen to volunteer with them to understand the nature of efforts that the organization has been putting in to promote Indian classical music and to take it to masses. I got my first opportunity to volunteer for an Odissi dance recital by Smita Panigrahi on June 19, 2019 at Ahilya Devi Holkar School in Pashan, Pune.
When I heard that 45 school students had voluntarily signed up for the dance recital, I was pleasantly surprised. To be honest, I did expect some curiosity among a few school children about the dance performance that was to take place in their school, but I definitely did not expect the high attendance and the high level of excitement and interest that I witnessed.
The program started with an introduction to the rules to be adhered to by the attendees. This was followed by an introduction to Odissi dance and the artist – Miss Smita Panigrahi, who is a senior disciple of Smt. Sonali Mohapatra. Smita has completed Nrutya Visharad from Pravin Kala Kendra, Chandigarh. A software professional who is currently working for Accenture Services, Smita has followed her passion for Odissi dance and has been practicing it right since her childhood and has continued to learn it to get better at her art.
Smita performed two dance routines. The first performance was Batu Nrutya, which was a fast- paced, pure dance offering. Batu Nrutya is a dance in honor of Lord Shiva and it has no song or recitation or any other accompaniment. This dance has sculpturesque poses, which indicate the actions of playing of instruments such as drums, veena, and flute. The second performance was based on Abhinaya or dance drama, which is the art of expression – an integral part of all Indian dance forms. Abhinaya is the type of dance performance that is based on stories of deities. Thesecond performance by Smita revolved around stories from Lord Krishna’s childhood. It was amazing to see how quickly she could change her facial expressions to get into different characters involved in the story. The attendees easily identified the multiple characters in the performance based onSmita’s changing facial expressions – a proof of the fact that a dance is a truly an effective form of storytelling.
The two performances were followed by an interactive session, in which the attendees got an opportunity to ask questions to the artist. The questions ranged from those about the changing expressions in the second performance to the differences between Odissi dance and other Indian classical dances like Bharatnatyam and Kathak, from the ornaments worn by the artist to the people who inspire her. Smita spoke about how her guru, Smt. Sonali Mohapatra, is her inspiration because despite her hearing impairment, she weaves magic through her performances. During the question and answer session, Smita also emphasized the importance of regular practice and keenness to keep learning. When asked about the differences between Odissi, Kathak, and Bharatnatyam dance forms, Smita demonstrated the very basic differences in the stances in the three dance forms and explained how the basic stance in Odissi – Chowka – is derived from the pose of lord Jagannath and another pose called Tribhanga, three bends, is the pose of Lord Krishna.
Smita answered all the questions with immense patience and made the answers simple enough through examples that the children could easily understand and relate with. I couldn’t help but smilewhen I heard a girl ask Smita whether she had ever considered going to Bollywood. I was amazed by the inquisitiveness of the children, who formed majority of the audience. The event was over, but the excitement and curiosity wasn’t, and so, some of the students stayed back to have a word withSmita, who continued to interact with the kids with a smile on her face.
I can only imagine the amount of effort that is involved in putting together an event of this kind – right from collaborating with schools and artists to ensuring that the event gets participation from alltypes of audiences. Baithak Foundation’s work and commitment to their chosen cause of makingIndian classical music accessible to everyone is truly commendable. Volunteering for this event was an enriching experience and I look forward to getting more opportunities to contribute to BaithakFoundation’s efforts in whatever way I can.

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