Odissi for Bijayini Satpathy is a celebration and sadhana. Counted among one of the finest Odissi dancers today, she is currently undertaking a temple documentation project to develop a first-hand understanding of the process of revitalisation of Odissi from temple sculptures about seven decades ago. The dance form, she believes, celebrates the body’s resonance with rhythms of the Universe.
Bijayini says, “We started photographing and documenting sculptures of Odisha 15 years back. However, this study brought to our notice much more than the principles of Odishan sculptures and their connectedness to the dance. We saw hundreds of postures that were not a part of the dance form yet. Thus, this study necessitated the study of Natyashastra to understand the universal pedagogy of movement in the Southeast Asia region and their connection with temple arts—Karanas.” Bijayini, is also trained in martial art forms like Chhau, Kalaripayyatu and Aikido.
Bijayini has been teaching Oddissi at Nrityagram (the dance village) in Hessarghatta, Bangalore, for over a decade now. She is the director of Nrityagram’s Odissi Gurukul. When she was seven, Bijayini began learning Odissi at the Odisha Dance Academy, Bhubaneswar, under the tutelage of Guru Gangadhar Pradhan and Guru Kanduri Charan Behara. The fluidity of her mudras, the ease with which she executes rhythmic patterns, the fleeting expressions on her face, portraying both the lyrical and dramatic quality of the content, are pointers to her dedication and mastery over Odissi.
Bijayani went to Nrityagram in 1993, and flourished under the late Protima Gauri. She has since collaborated with Surupa Sen, who is also based in Nrityagram, and dance companies in India and other countries. Even today, she makes conscious attempts to attain perfection in the dance form. “As I teach, I learn more about Odissi from a different perspective,” she says. Sarupa is helping her in the current project.
“When I was in Odisha recently, I visited some significant temples. Though I have been there many times, it seemed like a new page in the book. I am very excited that there is so much more to find, study, learn and practice,” Bijayini adds. She believes that dance is about total personality development and not mindless training sessions. She has also been undertaking a parallel research in Nrityagram based on the science of human body and movement.
Working with physiotherapists, Bijayini and Surupa have tried to study the anatomy and structure of the body so that their training is harmonious. She says, “In the process, we have developed a line of work that makes us understand human anatomy in Odissi. On the basis of this work we have developed a very scientific conditioning programme for the dancer’s body. It’s a body of work that makes the dancers’ life pain and injury proof.” Bijayini has also developed a simpler, systematic training programme for Odissi that makes learning the skill easily accessible and systematic. She adds, “There is a third line of work based on scriptures like the Natyashastra, Abhinaya Darpana and Abhnaya Chandrika to fine tune the efficiency of the major and multiple minor limbs of the body,” the dancer says.
Outside Nrityagram, students learn 10 basic movements in chauka and tribhangi stances and additionally they may learn eight charis—movements across space, nine Bhramaris—the spins and five Utplavanas—leaps and jumps. “But 42 movements don’t make up the Odissi vocabulary on which even the traditional repertoire is based. It has much more than that. Part of our work has been also deconstruction of existing vocabulary and finding the lowest common denominator of Odissi movement,” she adds.
Bijayini has collaborated with renowned dancers and dance groups from all over the world like Ramli Ibrahim & Sutra Dance Theatre (Malaysia), Theater de Klaenge (Germany), Rob McWilliams (US), Isadora Duncan Foundation for Contemporary Dance (US), Maggi Seitsma and Expression Dance Company (Australia), Paul Taylor Dance Company II (US) and others.
“Odissi and sacred arts in general can be compared with the great rivers like the Ganges. They have flown for ages absorbing and discarding in the process. There is invincible power in this great tradition to flow into the future through every threat, very much like the rivers do. However, like nature, even art forms need conscious effort from mankind to survive. It is important that these old traditions speak to the new generations and the latter relates to them instead of thinking of them as boring or uncool,” she says.
And what do we expect to see from her in future? “Excellent Odissi,” she smiles.