25 Years of Nrityagram

First published on DailyO, August 18, 2015.

The first thing I saw this morning at Nrityagram was a raatrani bush in bloom, shining with dew and last night’s rain. I had to resist the temptation to shake it. Living here is about smelling the flowers. And presently, as preparations for Nrityagram’s 25th anniversary performance in Bangalore ascend to a fever pitch, it feels momentous to be here.

A potted history – set up in 1990, Nrityagram is a dance village on the outskirts of Bangalore, sandwiched between the grasslands of Hesaraghatta and the looming threat of urbanisation. Its founder was Protima Gauri Bedi, remembered in equal measure for her scandalous celebrity image and her innings as an Odissi dancer. Nrityagram is modelled on the guru-shishya parampara, in which students and teachers learn and live with each other, co-existing in a mutually symbiotic environment and within and beyond the studio. In its initial years, the village was home to Kathak, Mohiniattam and Odissi gurukuls, and its vision aspired to encompass other classical dance and martial art forms.

Post the heady 1990s, three Odissi dancers – Surupa Sen, Bijayini Satpathy, Pavithra Reddy – remained at Nrityagram along with Lynne Fernandez, the dance village’s managing director and light designer. Touring as the Nrityagram Ensemble, they mined every inch of what they had learned, to create new work in the Odissi idiom. Sen is the choreographer, possessed of an inspired, slightly mad demeanour; she often creates with her eyes closed and limbs flailing. In a previous interview, Satpathy, the director of education and Sen’s choreographic muse, called her “a dervish roaming in space, very very mad”.

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