NEW DELHI: Ramli Ibrahim, Malaysia's cultural icon and legendary dance choreographer of the Indian classical dance, received on Tuesday the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2011, the first for a Malaysian.
The award is recognised as the highest national honour conferred on performing artists, gurus and scholars of the performing arts. It is the most coveted honour artistes aspire to get.
Ramli, 59, received the award from Indian President Pranab Mukherjee at a special ceremony held at the Presidential House.
Thirty-five other artistes from different fields received the award, as well.
The award is in recognition of his contributions to Odissi, said to be the oldest surviving dance form of India, on the basis of archeological evidence.
Originating from Orissa, an eastern Indian state, it is one of eight classical dance forms of India.
"The Sangeet Natak Akademi Award is something I will revel in," said Ramli, who was obviously over the moon after receiving the honour.
"Being the first Malaysian to receive the prestigious award, it is something to be treasured, said the internationally-renowned dancer who has performed overseas for more than three decades.
"It has been a great struggle to be someone in the Indian classical dance and certainly, in Odissi, as with over one billion population, there are already a critical mass of very talented people in India.
"Hence, one has got to be really good to be able to stand out and be recognised.
"So, the recognition is something I will treasure," he told Bernama in an interview.
Ramli is instrumental in transforming the dance scenario in Malaysia by boldly charting new paths and single-handedly establishing Odissi as a widely appreciated dance form.
Accomplished in ballet, modern, and Indian classical dance, he is the artistic director of the Sutra Dance Theatre, having choreographed stunning works and nurtured some of the brightest dance talents from Malaysia.
Was he vying for the prestigious award?
"Not at all. It came as a great surprise. I never do things because I want a result like this," he said.
The eminent representatives of music, dance and theatre honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 2011 each receive a cash price of Rs1 lakh (RM5,894) angavastram (long cotton or silk scarf worn on the shoulder by men) and tamrapatra (engraved copper plate).
The Sangeet Natak Akademi, established by the Government of India on May 31, 1952, is the National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama.
It was created as the apex body in the country for the task of preservation and promotion of the performing arts tradition of India.
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