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Odissi's potent brew

Aug 16. 2012
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The forces of good go up against the hordes of evil in the Orissa Dance Company's Ramayana


In India and Southeast Asia, no poem has had more cultural impact than the Ramayana. For the past 2,000 years, this Indian-born epic has been recast as Javanese shadow plays, reimagined as Thai masked dramas and reinvented in Khmer dances.
 Bangkok audiences will have a rare chance to see the Ramayana straight from the source next month, as the Orissa Dance Company (ODA) holds sway over a spellbound audience at the Thailand Cultural Centre in Bangkok. That show on September 17 will be another jewel in the crown of the 14th annual International Festival of Dance and Music. 
The show will not be difficult to follow. Even though there are live vocalists singing in Sanskrit, simultaneous translations in English and Thai are being projected on the side screens. But the accent is really on the fantastic dancing and otherworldly costumes.
Founded in 1975 by Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, the Orissa Dance Academy is an important institution engaged in the teaching and promoting of Odissi dance, music and related art forms. It has played a prominent role in popularising and propagating these traditions both in India and abroad. 
What’s more, its exemplary training methods and skilled teaching staff have produced plenty of young solo dancers and innovative group compositions. For the most part, Odissi dance is performed by women. However, this institution has made it a priority to produce some of the most talented and versatile male dancers in the field of Odissi, so that there are now 16 men and eight women in the troupe.
ODA’s repertory group has enthralled audiences in the US, Canada, the UK, South America, Japan, China, Malaysia and all across Europe. 
The organisation is led by Aruna Mohanty, one of the finest Odissi dancers in the country. Under her tutelage, the company has become a global force to be reckoned with. As the New York Times noted, “For a moment time stood still. The dancers of Orissa Dance Academy and the audience converged and came together in an ecstatic culmination of dance and music”.
In Hindu aesthetics, rasa refers to an emotion. It is one of the most basic ingredients of all classical dance, music and theatre in India. There are nine such rasas and in this work each is conveyed through an episode from the Ramayana. 
In sringara, hand gestures and facial expressions are used to show Rama and Sita sharing in the joys of love. As Rama breaks Shiva’s bow to win the hand of Sita, he is the embodiment of the veerarasa or chivalry. 
When the demoness Shooparnaka is sent shuttling back and forth between Lakshmana and Rama, humour known as the hasyarasa is evoked. 
But during the suspenseful scene when Sita is abducted by Ravana –one of the most popular parts recreated in Thai masked dramas and classical dance – the whole forest of Panchavati is filled with trepidation, and the mood is one of bhayaanaka (fear). 
When Rama sees his friend and devotee, Jatayu, dying in his arms, he is full of compassion (karuna). He is even sadder when this bird-like creature, who had his wings clipped by the demon king Ravana, dies. 
Rama is full of wonderment (adbhuta) as the army of monkeys builds the bridge called Setu Bandha to connect with Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka. The monkey clan devotes themselves to helping Rama fight Ravana in order to rescue Sita. 
To reach Lanka from the shores of India, one has to cross a narrow strait in the sea. The monkey warriors want to bridge the gulf with branches and stones. So they begin throwing them into the sea. These objects float on the surface, forming a bridge. When he sees this Rama is awestruck. 
It all leads to a fight of epic proportions as Rama and Ravana square off on the battlefield. 
For this extraordinary performance, the dance company has distilled the highlights – think magic, murder and romance and – of the poem into a potent brew that make this timeless tale of good versus evil so intoxicating. 
Make sure to mark September 17 on your calendar for another outstanding performance at Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance and Music, supported by the Embassy of India. 
The festival is sponsored by Bangkok Bank, B Grimm, the Dusit Thani Bangkok, The Nation Group, Nivea, SCG, Singha, Thai Airways International, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Toyota Motor Thailand.
Ramayana by the Orissa Dance Company will be performed at 7.30pm on September 17 at the Thailand Cultural Centre.
Tickets are Bt500 to Bt1,500 at ThaiTicketMajor.
For more information, call (02) 262 3191 or visit www.BangkokFestivals.com.

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