Spark in the dark

Kavita dwibedi’s odissi homage to the Buddha was rich with ex­pres­sion and mean­ing.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ARTS - By SHARMILLA GANE­SAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

There is a cer­tain beauty in sim­plic­ity, as am­ply proven by Kavita Dwibedi’s odissi dance show last weekend in Kuala Lumpur. Shweta Mukti, pre­sented by Kalpana Dance Theatre, was a one-woman per­for­mance on a bare stage – no props, no com­plex for­ma­tions, no cos­tume changes. Fit­ting per­haps, for a pro­duc­tion that pays homage to the Buddha and the lib­er­a­tion of the soul from worldly trap­pings.

And yet, for all its pared-down aus­ter­ity, Kavita’s per­for­mance at Shan­tanand Au­di­to­rium, The Tem­ple Of Fine Arts, was rich with ex­pres­sion and mean­ing, telling the story of Gau­tama Buddha through the jour­neys of five dif­fer­ent women who all played parts in his life. An orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion by the odissi ex­po­nent from New Delhi, In­dia, Shweta Mukti brought to­gether not just dance, but mu­sic com­posed by vet­eran odissi mu­si­col­o­gist ramhari Das and Odia po­etry by Kedar Mishra.

Those used to more dy­namic pre­sen­ta­tions of odissi may have found this pro­duc­tion a lit­tle slow – Kavita favours a more tra­di­tional and lyri­cal style, and here par­tic­u­larly, the fo­cus was much more on emo­tions and sto­ry­telling.

Kavita is renowned for her ab­hi­naya (ex­pres­sive move­ments), and the show was a fan­tas­tic show­case of what an ex­pert dancer can achieve with just a minute change in fa­cial ex­pres­sion or a sub­tle shift in pos­ture. each char­ac­ter Kavita took on was sig­ni­fied ex­ter­nally only by dif­fer­ent shawls – a gold an­gavas­tra for the queen, a sim­ple red du­patta for the “un­touch­able” woman – and yet, each woman was brought to vivid life in a clearly dis­tinct man­ner.

The con­flu­ence of tra­di­tional odissi tropes, most of­ten used to de­pict hindu-based sto­ries, with prin­ci­ples of Bud­dhism was fas­ci­nat­ing. Young Gau­tama with his mother, for in­stance, brought to mind oft-de­picted scenes of Kr­ishna and his mother Yashodha. The char­ac­ter of the fu­ri­ous Ma­gandhi, mean­while, was al­most cer­tainly in­flu­enced by dances in which the god­dess Devi is por­trayed in her wrath­ful form.

Kavita also clev­erly wove in the tra­di­tional rasa (pri­mary emo­tions) of In­dian clas­si­cal dance into each seg­ment, and with her su­perb use of bhav (ex­pres­sion), brought them to life beau­ti­fully.

First, we see Gau­tami, Gau­tama’s fos­ter mother. here, Kavita de­picted an en­tire spec­trum of ma­ter­nal af­fec­tion: ini­tially, she plays with her young son, lov­ingly dress­ing him up and chid­ing him for his mis­chief, but when he leaves in search of en­light­en­ment, she is deeply sad­dened and yet re­signed, wish­ing him well on his quest.

From mother, we move to wife, and Kavita’s por­trayal of Gau­tama’s wife Ya­sod­hara was one of the show’s high­lights. In a lovely dis­play of shringaram (love or at­trac­tion), the young wife coyly read­ies their room and her­self for her hus­band as flow­ers bloom and birds chirp out­side. When he ap­pears, she is both ex­cited and shy, and be­gins mas­sag­ing his feet.

The idyl­lic mo­ment is shat­tered, how­ever, when Gau­tama re­veals his in­ten­tion to leave, and Kavita cap­tured the ut­ter heart­break of the mo­ment in her ex­pres­sions. Sad­ness, how­ever, even­tu­ally melts into ac­cep­tance, as Ya­sod­hara re­alises that her hus­band has a larger pur­pose.

In stark con­trast is the beau­ti­ful, ar­ro­gant Ma­gandhi, who both deeply de­sires the Buddha and is en­raged by his re­jec­tion of her. The most en­er­getic seg­ment in the show, Kavita ef­fort­lessly moved from rau­dram (fury) to karun­yam (sad­ness), as Ma­gandhi al­ter­nately seethes with anger and be­seeches Buddha to love her. The move­ments were markedly more tan­dava (vig­or­ous, mas­cu­line) than the other seg­ments, and com­bined with the pow­er­ful, pri­mal mu­sic and red light­ing, it was ter­rif­i­cally in­tense.

The next char­ac­ter, the cour­te­san Am­ra­palli, was per­haps the least de­fined of the five. her story is of a woman who is rich with ma­te­rial wealth, but longs for spir­i­tual ful­fill­ment, and even­tu­ally finds it with the Buddha.

While Kavita’s por­trayal was pleas­ing, it felt less sub­stan­tial than the oth­ers – there was op­por­tu­nity here to cre­atively de­pict the life of a cour­te­san that wasn’t fully re­alised.

The show was brought to a close with the story of Prakruti, a woman born into a low caste who finds her lib­er­a­tion in the Buddha, be­com­ing the first fe­male am­bas­sador for equal­ity in his fold. When she en­coun­ters the Buddha, she is ini­tially over­joyed at his pres­ence, but when he asks her for wa­ter, she re­cedes in shame, say­ing she is an un­touch­able. he, how­ever, treats her as an equal and en­light­ens her in the way of the truth, and Prakruti is filled with won­der at this ac­cep­tance.

Kavita por­trays these chang­ing emo­tions ex­pertly, and as Prakruti finds her sal­va­tion, the show rises in a crescendo to its end: a lone woman, dancing in pure bliss to sonorous chants of “Buddham sha­ranam gachchami” as an im­age of the Buddha de­scends slowly to the stage, and in the end, all is still as she pros­trates be­fore him – a fit­ting end to a rich­ly­lay­ered trib­ute.

Solo won­der: in­dian odissi ex­po­nent Kavita dwibedi per­form­ing in Sh­we­taMukti, pre­sented lo­cally by Kalpana dance Theatre. — S. Bala Mu­rali

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