As Nrityagram gives glimpses of a decade of dance making,its main forces,Odissi dancers Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy,talk about their magical synergy on stage and long friendship off it
For Odissi dancers Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy,the realisation of their movements on stage being in complete sync was instant when they performed together for the first time. If they needed any confirmation,it came from the late Protima Bedi,founder of Nrityagram. In 1993,Nrityagram,a 10-acre dance residency located 35 km from Bangalore,was three years old and trying to establish its foothold in the world of classical dance. This is the time when Satpathy who was handpicked by Bedi from Orissa to be part of her dance ensemble was asked to present Moksha,the final and most soul-stirring segment of the Odissi dance repertoire,along with Sen,who had joined the residency soon after its opening. Bedi called them carbon copies of each other and the performance photographs validated her statement as they captured the dancers synchronised steps and postures.
Sen and Satpathy remember that evening vividly. It was instrumental in inspiring them to turn life-long collaborators. After Bedis death in a landslide in 1998,they have also become faces of Nrityagram and its main forces along with its managing trustee Lynne Fernandez. Today,Sen calls Satpathy her dance muse. Most of Nrityagrams pieces are choreographed by Sen,who is its artistic director. But it is Satpathy,director of Nrityagrams Odissi Gurukul,who realises them on stage. Their work was recently showcased in South Africa as part of Excerpts: A decade of dance making.
All of Surupas choreographies are directly proportional to what my body can do, says Satpathy,simplifying the creative process that they have developed over the years and adds,I am the material through which she explores the range of her creativity. At the root of such a symbiotic relationship are their amazingly identical dance sensibilities and passion for their art. It can take a lifetime to find such chemistry in a dance partner. Its a gift that we have got, says Sen. The most impressive proof of their partnership is Vibhakta,a piece based on Adi Shankaracharyas strotam on Ardhanareeswara. As this piece explores the unique form of Lord Shiva as half-man and half-woman,it captures Sen and Satpathy dancing in perfect harmony.
The two artistes,however,come from very different backgrounds. Sen,daughter of an Army officer,was trained in Bharatanatyam from the age of four till she was in Class IX. She was drawn to Odissi after watching it on television. Her graduation in Economics from Delhi University coincided with Bedi setting up this dance hub. A month after its opening,Sen moved there for good and started her training in Odissi.
Unlike her,Satpathy had started learning the dance form at the age of seven. In 1993,when Bedi visited Orissa Dance Academy (ODA) to select young dancers for her ensemble,Satpathy was studying in college at that time,apart from being a prominent student of the academy. After seeing my dance,Gourima told me you deserve more. That statement stayed with me and in February 1994,I shifted to Nrityagram permanently, she recalls.
After spending nearly two decades at this beautifully-planned residency,both the artistes are dedicated to carry forward its legacy. Sen,as the artistic director of the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble,works towards expanding the vocabulary of traditional Odissi and creating new imagery and movement. Satpathy is involved in the training of a new generation of dancers,apart from developing new training techniques for classical dance.
However,whats interesting about their partnership is that their dance techniques are different even though they achieve spectacular harmony on stage. My dance is more technique-driven while Surupas more nuanced. I respond more to rhythm and she to melody. These two qualities complement each other when we dance together, says Satpathy.