DELHI : When Zofia Lichota puts on the elaborate costumes for an Odissi dance performance, it’s always a perfect fit. The Indian classical dance form from the state of Odisha has found for itself a fan and a flag-bearer in Lichota, a Polish dancer who has been a disciple of the Padma Shree awardee Odissi dancer Ranjana Gauhar for the last ten years.
Lichota has taken Odissi to stages in Poland and across the globe, mesmerising a diverse range of audiences with her graceful performances, emerging as a cultural envoy between the nations. The artiste is all set to take the stage at CD Deshmukh Auditorium in Delhi’s India International Centre on January 20 with her performance ‘Mahabhutas – Between Air and Earth’.
Lichota’s path to Odissi was not a quick hop across borders. A dancer from childhood, she started out with contemporary dance, in Poland. Her encounter with Odissi happened at a workshop conducted by Indian dancer Pompi Paul in the city of Chorzów in 2006 where she picked up the basic steps. This sparked in her a desire to delve deeper into this Indian classical dance form.
“In 2010, I came to India for a unique project called On the Track of Dance organised by a dance group in Poland for a month. I had the opportunity to learn the basic steps of different classical dances and wanted to learn the tradition,” Lichota remembers. She learnt Kuchipudi under the
tutelage of dancer Arunima Kumar in London for a while. In 2013, Lichota got a scholarship to learn Odissi at Utsav Odissi dance academy in Delhi.
An Odissi ambassador “Odissi is a delicate and graceful art form,” says Lichota, who considers herself an “ambassador” for Indian classical dance abroad.
“It is not easy to convey to people about art from such a different background,” she says about how people outside India often find it hard to appreciate its classical art forms due to the cultural differences. Odissi, however, lets one express a multitude of “emotions and feelings” which helps in bridging this cultural gap.
‘Mahabhutas’ is a solo Odissi performance which explores the connection between the elements of air and earth. It is a journey through the divine power of air, the life-giving essence of earth, and the deep emotions that arise from their interplay.
“The performance will focus on basic Odissi dance repertoire through elements that surround us. First is an invocation of goddess Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and art. We can connect it with air as the presence of this goddess surrounds us with music, poetry, and literature, just like air,” says the artiste.
A great believer in the Guru-Shishya tradition, Lichota says that it is a sacred bond. “I wanted to learn in India because we don’t have the Guru Shishya Parampara in Europe. This concept creates a strong bond between the student and the teacher,” says Lichota.
Talking about how learning Odissi requires long term dedication she says, “You need to put in a lot of effort. One needs to practise every day to master this art. If you go deep into it there is so much you get in return.”
Keep it classic
Lichota says that Odissi as a dance form will maintain its identity in the future. However, there’s always the risk of it changing beyond recognition as many Western groups try to bring new elements to it.
“In India, you are so lucky to have these ancient art forms. One should try to preserve it. I hope people take this tradition forward the way it is. There is scope for improvement but we shouldn’t go too much away from the art. We can use new choreographic concepts,” she says.
For Lichota, there is beauty and wisdom in Odissi, and she wishes to share it with as many people as she can.
‘Mahabhutas- Between Air and Earth’ will be performed at CD Deshmukh Auditorium, IIC, at 11am today