Sutra’s brilliant originality… checked

SUTRA Dance Theatre’s Ganjam paid fine homage to the cultural region of southern Odisha in India at its recent staging at the Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur.

The original SDT work was premiered at the KL International Festival last year, to much applause.

Ganjam is SDT’s first full-length work after a nine-year break. SDT artistic director Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, Malaysia’s doyen of odissi, had commissioned Ganjam natives Guru Gajendra Panda and Odiyan scholar and visual artist, Dr Dinanath Pathy, to help realise the vision.

Ramli must be commended for his fearless choreography over the decades, and Ganjam is one such example in current times.

A work of five parts, not related to each other, some of the dances in Ganjam linger in the mind including Rama Bhajana, a devotional section in the performance with folk dance references, Pallavi and the last item, Yogini-Moksha.

The memories are aided by the excellent dancing of SDT stalwart performers Harienthran, Divya Nair, Geethika Sree, Tan Mei Mei while the showstealer must be the youngest, Kirthana, all of 11 years old. The latter began her odissi dance training under Sutra’s Kuala Selangor Outreach Programme, about three years ago.

While Ramli himself performed in some of the dance segments, lending that added dimension of master with students, it was plain to see that the sexagenarian found some of the routine too strenuous these days. However, he did emanate the joy of dance throughout the show.

In an intimate setting like the DBKL auditorium, as compared to the premiere at Istana Budaya, details are clear to the audience – from steps to facial expressions – making for a strong connection. However, the lighting seemed to lag behind the crucial moments, and paled in comparison to the premiere staging.

As an ensemble, the SDT dancers performed mostly like a well-oiled machine. Despite the brilliant forms in the senior dancers, the whole came across as lacking in lustre.

This was most evident in the last item, Yogini-Moksha. Using the theme of yogini (sacred feminine force), and their emergence from the energy of lord Shiva who was in embrace with Parvati in their mountain abode, the earthly energy from the dancers somehow didn’t deliver the frenzy of joining with the lord.

It is obvious that most of the dancers are skilled and dedicated in their art, but there was a loss of emotive communication with the audience.

When a dance production is terrific, time and space come together in a heart-stopping way. There have been many occasions when SDT has done this over the decades, since it was formed in 1983. The premiere of Ganjam had some of that emotion. One can only look forward to many more exciting productions.

** This review appeared in the new straits times, malaysia in April 2016

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Subhadra Devan

A journalist who has been writing about culture, arts and heritage since the 1980s. She is herself gobsmacked to have started the Sunday arts pages for English newspapers in Malaysia, in the new millennium. The passion for these genres rages on.

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