A mind for science and a heart for art

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Dancer Sam Goraya enthralls in his latest production, Purusha & Prakriti

It was unusual to witness a Sikh man with four masters’ degrees and a PhD in Oceanography and Mathematics, rule the stage using the classical Indian dance form Odissi as his medium of expression.

Melbourne’s Dr Sam Goraya recently created a challenging work called Purusha & Prakriti using Odissi as a tool for communication and its power to explore thematic concepts of higher consciousness.

Purush & Prakriti. Indian Link

Purusha is the soul, the self – the word literally means man. Prakriti is that which is created. It is nature in all her aspects. Prakriti symbolises the female creative energy.

Artistry as well as devotion were present in equal measure in Sam’s recital. With endless hours of rehearsals, months of planning and four decades of dancing experience to back him, the 53-year-old teetered brilliantly on stage.

The audience sat there watching Sam have an experience on stage, and they responded by being drawn to his work, connected, not merely viewing the performance politely.

With his initial segments like the Mangala Charana, Ardhnarishwara Stotra, Pallavi and Panchakshara Stotra, the permutations and combinations in the technical compositions were matched with good choreography by various gurus.

“Goraya provided a glimpse into the rich cultural history and beautiful artistic expressions of Odissi. His performance has really evolved over the years,” said Kiran Sekhon Gaillard who was amongst the sizeable audience that attended his recital at the Malthouse Theatre in Southbank.

Purush & Prakriti. Indian Link

Goraya’s facial expressions and movements captured the essence of the emotion bringing evocation to the themes presented. From the virile splendour of Shiva, to the tremulous desire of Radha, one could witness the magical shift between the masculine and feminine energies as Goraya vividly detailed different stories.

The voiceover explaining the interpretations of historical and mythical legends added to Goraya’s performance enhancing his skill in the design and synchronisation of movements. The size of the theatre offered an intimate space for interaction between the dancer and his audience.

The backdrop was unadorned as the entire focus was on the dancer who dazzled in four different traditional Odissi dance costumes and exquisite jewellery. Most effects were generated from smoke machines and inventive lighting. The only prop on the side of the stage was a portrait of Hindu deities Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabadhra.

Purush & Prakriti. Indian Link

During a brief interlude, the audience heard an explanation of the background of Odissi dance and Goraya’s recent experience in Odisha, India. He visited Odisha for the first time late last year, spending time at the Rudhraksh Foundation under the guidance of Guru Bichitrananda Swain and Lingaraj Pradhan. He also practiced Navarasa Sadhana with a renowned master of Koodiyattam guru Venu G in Kerala.

Goraya considers himself fortunate to have visited the famous Jagannath Puri temple during the auspicious festival of Navakalevar. It is a symbolic recreation of wooden forms of the four deities Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan.

“I visited the temple with some of the most renowned musicians of Odisha who are very well respected by Pandas of Puri. With their assistance I was able to witness Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabadhra from the shortest possible distance and dance in front of them while I was shielded by these musicians and their friends from the crowd,” he said.

The purpose of the Purusha & Prakriti performance was to raise funds for underprivileged Odissi dancers in Odisha. The net profit generated through this performance will be used to purchase food for the Odissi dancers, and to bring out one of them to perform in New Zealand and Australia in 2017.

Purush & Prakriti. Indian Link

In his brief speech Vasan Srinivasan, the Chairperson of the Confederation of Indian Australian Association, praised Sam for his dedication and efforts, and promised to sponsor one ticket for an Odissi dancer to travel from India to perform in Melbourne.

In 2014 Goraya’s performance Triguna helped Kiran Bedi’s organisation India Vision Foundation, to support children whose parents are in prison. This organisation teaches children various skills to make them self-sufficient, and hopefully better citizens. Triguna raised almost $6000 and made a significant and positive difference to those children’s world.

Talent is god’s gift to a person, however what they do with that talent is their gift to god. Lal Pardasani, one of the sponsors of the event, agreed. “Sam is both gifted and altruistic,” he said. “It was my pleasure to support him and his good cause.”

Purush & Prakriti. Indian Link

Goraya saved his best for last. Geet Govind Ashtapadi Pashyati Dishi Dishi was rendered brilliantly with nuances of bhava and abhinaya harmoniously merged to depict devotional aspects of Radha’s divine love for Lord Krishna. He ended his performance by navigating the Mahakali Stuti, with dignity and poise combining supple movements and aggressive angles.

His devotion to his craft created a sense of serenity, a nod to the spiritual, as he got lost in his dance form and the flow of his performance.

“It felt like I was in some form of meditation, I thought it was amazing,” said Jessica Pocev, a teenage singer who had accompanied her mother to the show.

Purush & Prakriti.Indian Link

“I found the grace of a poet and the accuracy of a mathematician in his dances,” said Poonam Karna from the audience. “He must possess a sharp intellect to execute such precision.”

Both sensuous and evocative, it was hard to find much fault with Goraya’s performance. His ability to create vibrations and energy in the theatre transformed him and the audience in what became a rare spiritual experience.