To restitute an art form that is fast vanishing from its glory is not at all an easy task. But Rakesh Saibabu, a Chhau exponent from Mayurbhanj, is least affected by the challenges. With elements of folk, tribal, martial and traditional classical art, this beautiful and virile dance form from East India is renowned for its stormy and dynamic style. Dancer Rakesh Babu says he is single-mindedly restoring the vanishing glory of this glorious heritage dance of Mayurbhanj, a state in Orissa.
“It’s all because of lack of publicity that this dance form is kept under cover. The majority of people in the country do not even know that such a dance form exists at all. But those who have watched this dance at least once would like to know more about it and some even take the initiative to master it,” says Rakesh. Explaining the aesthetics of Chhau, Rakesh says, “Elements of Chhau dance are mostly drawn from epics like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and also from folk, tribal and martial arts. The music accompanying the dance is unique. The orchestra is generally composed of instruments like mohuri, chad-chadi, dhol, dhumsa, etc and sometimes a lilting vocal music also accompanies it.
The grammar of Mayurbhanj Chhau comprises six chalis or topka (basic steps) and 36 uflis (movements). The Mayurbhanj repertoire treasures the largest number of dance items, around two hundred in number, which is rarely found in any other dance form of the world, though some of them are lost in oblivion with the passage of time,” says Rakesh, who inherited this dance form from his father Guru Janme Joy Saibabu, a renowned Chhau exponent. The Delhi-based artiste runs the Gurukul Chhau Sangam in Delhi.
He says that scores of westerners also come to master this art form. “I live to popularize this dance form. I have toured different parts of the country and also abroad to host workshops and performances. Many westerners have shown genuine interest in this art form and some are also into researches,” says Rakesh, who is also trained in contemporary dance and folk.
“The Chhau dance is a blend of lasya and thandava. It’s purely semi-classical with tinges of folk. “This is in no way a difficult dance form. With sufficient dedication and interest, anyone can master it,” adds the dancer.