Special: Ahead of her show in the city, Odissi exponent Bijayini Satpathy takes us through her work

Bijayini Satpathy is taking odissi global as she redefines, revives and replenishes the dance form with her experience, research and unquestionable love for the art form.

Sharmistha Ghosal Published :  11th November 2022 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  11th November 2022 12:00 AM
Bijayini Satpathy

Bijayini Satpathy

If it’s not easy to be a true achiever, it’s all the more difficult to fall and rise like a phoenix every time you are faced with challenges. Odissi expert Bijayini Satpathy is one such woman, who is challenging the gatekeepers of this ancient classical dance form with her depiction and discovery of its expansive vocabulary in newer ways. For 25 years, Satpathy led Nrityagram — a company, residential space and training programme (based in Bengaluru) that specialises in odissi — with her zest for the dance form, taking it to global platforms. In 2019, when Satpathy left Nrityagram and gave her first-ever solo performance at the Drive East Festival, it became evident how much more the danseuse had to contribute to the world of odissi. Back after her very fruitful residency in MET Museum New York, Satpathy is all set to enchant Kolkata with her solo act, Abhipsaa — a seeking, that’s part of Taal Connect, an initiative to expose the city’s youth to the classical arts. Presented by Suman Sarawgi and Sangeeta Dudhoria, this act, commissioned by Duke University and Baryshnikov Arts Center, will take the audience on a profoundly personal journey of discovery in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms through four distinct original choreographies.

Satpathy’s art form always pushes the boundaries of the formal and representational norms of odissi through narrative and non-narrative pieces and reimagines and reinterprets the same in a very modern manner that’s capable of drawing-in even the uninitiated. Ahead of her performance in the city, we had a chat with the beautiful danseuse on her road ahead and lots more. Excerpts:

You are back in Kolkata after a long time. Tell us how excited you are about the performance here?

I have performed only once in Kolkata some 9-10 years ago at Saturday Club. It is exciting to perform here again and this time, with my own choreographies. I will be performing Abhipsaa — a seeking, which was created during the first year of the pandemic in 2020 and had its world premiere at Duke University (Durham, California) in December, 2021. I am very excited about performing this programme in a few cities in India too, including Kolkata. Abhipsaa, which literally means ‘seeking,’ at once establishes the existence of two — a subject that seeks and the object that is sought. In two narrative and two non-narrative choreographies, I explore this idea in the dimensions in which classical dances usually dwell — iconographic, physical, emotional and spiritual.

Bijayini Satpathy during one of her stage performances

How has your solo journey been since your departure from Nrityagram?

It is a journey and a process that keeps me excited and engaged with odissi and movement in different and new ways. Discovering my ability to conceptualise ideas and choreograph them into dances has been a very beautiful and rewarding result. You recently performed at the prestigious MET Museum and had a fruitful residency.

Tell us about the experience?

I learn from every encounter and experience. During the MET residency, I chose to create four space-specific works for four gallery spaces inside the MET, drawing from the vast language of odissi. The cultural otherness of the spaces influenced the content of my creations thematically, musically and in presentation. After I rehearsed and performed in these spaces for two months, I created a final dance called Doha drawing from their essence. The entire process has made me appreciate odissi and its intricacies more than ever.

How open has the West become to Indian dance forms?

The west has always had an artistic seeking towards the east. The pioneer of modern dance in America, Ruth St Denis, introduced eastern ideas a long time ago. The great choreographer Mark Morris visits the Margazhi Festival in Chennai regularly. Numerous students from western countries travel to India in pursuit of Indian dance and music. With every such interaction, the west’s appreciation of Indian art has grown deeper and more refined. That an Indian dancer was invited to the MET as their artist-in-residence is a good example of that.

How invested, enlightened or interested are the current youth in Indian classical dance forms?

I only know about the few students I teach, who are deeply invested. But considering our large population, the student numbers are few. In recent times, social media has made Indian dances more desirable to the youth. It doesn’t matter how someone begins to dance. The important thing is that once someone dances, there is no going back. Indian dances have the ability to introduce one to a sense of inner discipline and a certain flavourful and sensual way of interacting with the universe. This experience, I feel, is a basic human right. Every child must learn to dance in school.

How has the Indian classical dancing space evolved over the years? Are opportunities opening up more?

From Doordarshan’s once-a-week late-night classical dance performances to innumerable dance festivals connected to every heritage sight and dance institution, it is a significant growth. There are more ensembles on stage these days and more men and women are taking to performing professionally. There are more innovative themes and ideas for presentation now. And since the pandemic, there is a way to perform virtually too. These are all expansion of opportunities.

Tell us how you are expanding odissi with new movements and vocabulary?

I only draw from what already exists. Odissi has a very rich vocabulary. I try to answer questions I have had when I was a student, when I started teaching, when I perform and now, when I create. This makes me look at odissi through a different lens and some aspect or the other becomes the point of focus. I feel my most significant work has been in the field of training where I have introduced elements to the basic vocabulary in order to make it as complete as possible for the body in training. 

What are you working on currently?

It is break-time for me after creating three commissioned productions in the duration of two years of pandemic — Abhipsaa, Call of Dawn and Doha — all of which have been performed only once. I feel a new work is fully realised through extensive performance over two years. I hope to do the same with all these new works.

Have you seen odissi change as you grew along with it?

When I started learning odishi, there were three styles. Now there are multiple substyles. The second and third generations of gurus from these three original lineages have developed more personalised styles with their respective research, aesthetics and presentation. This movement endorses a certain freedom of exploration within the form, which will make odissi grow from strength to strength.

Bijayini Satpathy will perform on November 13, at Azimganj House Rooftop, 7 Camac Street at 6.30 pm. Open to all.