Passion and precision

Odissi doyenne Madhavi Mudgal in her first ever Melbourne performance

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The fruits of a lifelong pursuit of excellence and untiring discipline were on display at the Melbourne Theatre Company recently, where Padma Shri Madhavi Mudgal performed her first ever show in Melbourne. Internationally acclaimed Odissi exponent, teacher and choreographer, Madhavi has exerted a profound influence in this Indian classical dance genre.

Numerous awards and honours have come her way, including the President of India’s award of Padma Shri, Central and the Orissa State Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Sanskriti Award, the Grande Medaille de la Ville by the city of Paris, Delhi State’s Parishad Samman, and the Nritya Choodamani among many.

Madhavi is the prime disciple of the great Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra who was revered for his great contribution and prominent role in the revival of Odissi dance.

Odissi dance dates back to the 2nd century BC however after experiencing a peak in between the 12 and 16th centuries AD, it was revived again in the early 1950s. Odissi Indian classical dance is an artistically beautiful way to unfold the untold tales of ancient times. Traditional Odissi dancers find inspiration in myths that transcend ordinary human life.

Madhavi’s choreography presented both richly narrative and purely technical aspects of the dance form through mellifluous gestures and strong footwork. Weaving a story through rhythm and movement, the dancers captivated the audience with their characterisations. A pining Radha, a playful Krishna or a cupid spring was enacted with limpid gestural clarity.

The show, titled Arpan (‘offering’), was held over two days and the program included various items of the Odissi repertoire. The beautifully choreographed dances by Madhavi had the poetry of sculptural lines, lucidity and spiritual resonance.

On both days the recital kicked off with a slower paced and reverential piece, Mangalacharan, suitably setting the invocative tone for an auspicious beginning.

Solos and duos by Madhavi and her disciples Sam Goraya and Shalakha Rai dominated the second half of the show. Shalakha who has been learning Odissi since she was 9 years old, displayed sculptural muscularity with a tranquility that contrasted with the springy exuberance of her feet.

Madhavi and Shalakha

Sam Goraya, who was instrumental in bringing his guru Madhavi Mudgal to Australia, matched Shalakha with vigour and versatility. Their performance was a fantastic showcase of what expert dancers can achieve with just a minute change in facial expression or a subtle shift in posture.

Sam who is a dedicated and passionate Odissi dancer always wanted Australians to experience the virtuosity of Madhavi’s art. Along with his partner Zlatko Varenina he coordinated her visit and performances in Adelaide, Melbourne and New Zealand.

According to Sam, the proceeds from the shows will be utilised to help underprivileged artists in India and encourage artistic exchange between local and Indian artists. According to special guest Srini Srinivasan, former Victorian Multicultural Commissioner, the collaboration between acclaimed Indian Odissi dancer and Australian artists not only promotes multiculturalism, it fosters harmony through dance.

Sam and Shalakha

VMC Commissioner Sam Almaliki and Labor Party member for St Albans MP Natalie Suleyman were among those present to support the talented artists.

The final piece of this special event was based on Moksha, the ultimate aim of human endeavour to merge with the absolute. It ended with a benedictory chant from the Vedas. Towards the end, the continuous applause from the mesmerised audience was well deserved.

Photos: Ravinder Singh Jabbal