A symphony in motion, maan” was how Java described the dancers of  The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble who performed at the Bishops College Auditorium last night. Presented by The Chitrasena Vajira Dance Foundation in remembrance of Chitrasena’s 88th birth anniversary, the Ensemble held the audience spellbound with a production that was as technically perfect in terms of production, as it was in terms of aesthetics. Neither Java nor I pretend to know anything about the intricacies of the Odissi dance form, but the sheer beauty and elegance of the dancers, combined with the stagecraft and superb lighting made the evening zip by so fast, we were still mesmerized and waiting for more at the time the audience rose to give the dancers a standing ovation.

Not too many of us here have even heard of Nrityagram, so here’s a brief description of its concept by the late Protima Gauri, founder of the ‘community of dancers’: “I dream of building a community of dancers in a forsaken place amidst nature. A place where nothing exists except dance. A place where you breathe, eat, sleep, dream, talk, imagine – dance. A place where dancers drop negative qualities such as jealousy, small-mindedness, greed and malice to embrace their colleagues as sisters and support each other in their journey towards becoming dancers of merit. A place called Nrityagram.”

Protima Gauri’s concept has become a reality and the Dance Ensemble has lived her dream, living together in the Dance Village (Nrityagram), practicing, working and dancing from eight to twelve hours a day. The work involves physical conditioning, dance lessons and practice, working in the vegetable garden, in the office, choreographing and attending to all other aspects of the organization without the benefit of any administrative staff.

Lynne Fernandez administers Nrityagram since the premature death of Protima Gauri in an avalanche in the Himalayas whilst on a pilgrimage to Tibet. She is the Managing Trustee and the Executive Director, who manages the Ensemble on their tours overseas, and is also the one who comes up with the brilliant lighting schemes for the productions.

Surupa Sen, Artistic Director, Choreographer and one of the two principal dancers of the Ensemble, has performed, in solo recitals and ensemble, all around India, North America, Europe, the Middle East and Far East, and has received many awards in recognition of her “Excellence in Dance”. Following the world premier of ‘Pratima-Reflection’ at the prestigious Joyce Theatre in New York, during the Ensemble’s most recent tour of the USA this year, Surupa’s creation ‘Vibhakta’ was listed in “The 10 best dance performances of 2008” by dance critic Joan Acocella of The New Yorker. And this is one of the pieces that audiences at tonight’s performance will be privileged to see – if they are lucky enough to get themselves tickets, that is.

Bijayini Satpathy, Director of Odissi Gurukul and the other principal dancer of the Ensemble has learned Odissi dance from the age of seven. She has been a student at Nrityagram since 1993, where she blossomed under the guidance of Protima Gauri and through her collaboration with Surupa Sen. Bijayini has also performed with the Ensemble as well as by herself, all over the world, and has received both national and international recognition including the prestigious 2003 Mahari Award (for best Odissi dancer of the year) and The Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar 2007, awarded by the Sangeet Natak Academy “..to the best in performing arts in India”. Those of you who watched Bijayini’s stunning performance last night will know what this means – and if you enjoyed last night’s performances, be aware that tonight’s production will be competely different, so try to catch this one too.

The other dancers of the Ensemble are Pavithra Reddy, (whose solo Abhinaya, last night was a delight), Rasmi Raj and Manasi Tripathy, all of who excelled in their supportive roles. I can go on about last night’s performances and production, but I’m running to post this in time – just so that some of you who are interested in Dance Theatre may have the chance to get some of those fast dwindling tickets. Check out the show tonight and see for yourself why the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble has been dancing their way into the hearts and minds of the audiences they have performed for around the world.

See you there tonight?

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