Odissi exponent Kavita Dwibedi uses a uniquely female perspective to tell the Buddha’s story.
ART, it is said, belongs to everyone and no one. While an art form may have its roots in a particular culture or country, the stories an artist chooses to tell with it is limited only by imagination.
For New Delhi-based classical Indian dancer Kavita Dwibedi, her beloved odissi allows her to pay tribute to a story that has long fascinated her: that of Gautama Buddha and his journey to enlightenment. As odissi performances typically depict stories and mythologies rooted in Hinduism – such as as tales of Krishna or Devi – Kavita’s upcoming show in Kuala Lumpur, Shweta Mukti, promises to be a unique experience.
An odissi dancer with over 25 years of experience, Kavita comes from an illustrious dance lineage: her late father was odissi maestro Hare Krishna Behera, who in turn was a disciple of the legendary Kelucharan Mohapatra, one of the four teachers who participated in the reconstruction of odissi in Odisha, India, in the 1950s.
Having travelled the world over for her performances, Kavita is known for her visionary interpretation of the dance and her mastery of abhinaya (expression). The multi-award winner is the founder-director of Odissi Akademi in New Delhi. Favouring the traditional odissi margam (repertoire), she mirrors her father’s graceful yet powerful style of performance, while also bringing her own touch of personality.
In an e-mail interview, Kavita says she has always been fascinated with the Buddha and his life’s journey, and wanted to bring out the essence of him through her dance. Shweta Mukti, however, takes an unusual approach. Exploring Buddha’s journey through the stories of five different women who each played a role in his life, the show uses a feminine lens to shine light onto some lesser-known aspects of the religious figure.
“The saying ‘Behind every successful man, there is a woman’ has always been on my mind, ever since I saw the sacrifices my mother made for my father to be able to achieve what he has become so well-regarded for,” Kavita explains. “Yet, nobody understands or looks into the unseen layers and aspects of women who have forgone their own happiness to give happiness to others, thereby getting getting their joy from that. Hence why I came up with this theme.”
The show will use the distinctly lyrical and sculpture-esque dance to narrate the Buddha’s connection with these women: Gautami, his foster mother and later his greatest disciple; his wife Yasodhara, who bore the pain of him leaving her for a higher cause; the beautiful and arrogant Magandhi, who was madly in love with Buddha but becomes his arch rival when spurned; the courtesan Amrapalli, who for all her wealth, longs for spiritual fulfillment; and, Prakruti, a shoemaker’s daughter liberated from the caste system by the Buddha.
Putting the production together was no simple task, shares Kavita, particularly since there were no existing songs to which the the dance portion could be choreographed.
Collaborating with scholar and poet Kedar Mishra for the poems that would tell the stories she wanted, she also roped in veteran odissi musicologist Ramhari Das for the musical compositions. The entire process, including original choreography by Kavita, took about two years.
“As a new production with specially written poems, it had to be edited and re-edited. There were times when we thought we had gotten in perfect, only to be left frustrated the next moment.
“The language of the poetry had to be classical and lyrical, and Kedar and I had to sit down for many rounds before we achieved what we wanted.
As for the music, it had to be very carefully done, as the songs are very intense with each character so different from the other. To bring out the feel of these songs, the music had to be composed over a period of time, and Guru Ramhari made an effort not to repeat the raagas (melodic patterns) at all,” she says.
Kavita hopes that audience members at Shweta Mukti will be carried away by the emotions and storytelling power of the show. Odissi, she says, is almost beyond description, and should simply be experienced.
“For me, odissi is like a flame, that starts off with a light glow, then keeps on brightening till it reachers its full extent, taking you to the pinnacle of the trance. I hope that, after watching this production, a new way of presenting odissi, even more audience members will go home a rasika (connoisseur).”
Shweta Mukti, presented by Kalpana Dance Theatre, will be staged this Sunday (June 22), 7pm, at Shantanand Auditorium, The Temple Of Fine Arts, Kuala Lumpur. For invitations, call 017-672 5672.