Sarita Mishra is an enthralling new generation Odissi dancer with her Bengaluru based Odissi dance institution ‘ Adyasha Foundation’. Curious Hounds had a delightful chat with the graceful dimpled cheek persona. In an confabulation, before the interview, she tells about her following a strict and disciplined regime. Apart from dancing and singing, her interest lies in reading and penning down her bouts of emotions into stirring words.
Q-) Dance is magical. What are your views on it?
I feel dance is magical, physical, spiritual and divine at the same time.
Q-) Until very recently dance was not accepted as a decent career choice, though dancing before god was respected. How and when, according to you, has this art morphed from a pleasing ritual to a much sought profession?
Odissi dance, particularly got its classical status in the year 1967. But even
before that, our gurus and a lot of female dancers tried to bring this art form
in the forefront. They performed worldwide, at a time, when dance was not
thought of as a career choice, and was a strict taboo for the girls even
getting into it. It gives me a great pleasure to see a tremendous positive change
in terms of dance gaining respect and popularity. It certainly has been an
evolved beautiful journey, and now Odissi, is so popular worldwide. There are so
many dancers all over the world making it as a profession. I think, in the present
time, pursuing a particular dance form has become a status symbol. I see many
parents taking interest in their children learning a classical dance.
Q-) Do you have an interesting anecdote to tell about your performing career?
I remember one small incident. Once, while performing a piece on Draupadi’s vastraharan, I was expressing Dushasana dragging Draupadi in the court, throwing her mercilessly and disrobing her. While enacting the scene, one by one my jewelry pieces started to fall down. I was conscious of it and felt embarrassed about this malfunctioning, but I managed the show brilliantly. After the performance when people came to meet and congratulate me, they were curious to know how I managed dropping my jewelry while dancing. Now, it had miraculously happened on its own and gave an intense dramatic effect. I must say the action synced and blended very well with the moment. I just smiled at them.
Q-) When did you realize dancing is your call? Were your parents supportive of your fascination for this medium of expression?
Dancing was my call from a very early age, as early as three. My parents often mentioned that I started dancing even before I started to walk; of course it is a metaphor, but depicts my early inclination towards it. I always knew I am born to dance because that’s what gives me the ultimate joy. Of course yes, my parents were very supportive. Whatever I am today, my mother plays a very major role in supporting me and my career. She would accompany me to my dance classes and sat waiting there unflinchingly for hours to take me back home. Her contribution is remarkable. I always thought, if no one else, I will have one committed audience. She would keenly observe senior students, and would later give me her feedback on scope to improve my dancing skills. Both my father and mother, every single day used to watch me practice and always encouraged me to dance. There is no second thought about them being supportive pillars behind my successful dancing career.
Q-) Why Odissi dance?
I belong to Odissa and I started learning dance in the year 1981. During that time, we did not have any other form of dance available in Odissa, other than Odissi. It was thus an obvious choice. Later, when I got the exposure to see all the other classical art forms, I felt happy and lucky to be blessed as an Odissi dancer, because I feel, Odissi dance has lyrical grace and moving, using every part of the body from head to toe, illustrating through body and facial expressions and the music is inimitably lilting. It is simply divine and joy giving.
Q-) Has dance molded your character? If yes, then to what extent and what has it done to your personality?
Yes. I would say dance has molded me splendidly. Even in my childhood I practiced so much that I had no time to indulge in petty activities or involve myself with other children in normal pranks et cetera. I was an extremely devoted student. When I was in college, I never had the urge to go around and waste time in insignificant affairs. Dance was my focal point. It made me a focused and a disciplined person aiming on my selective goals. Consequently, I did very well in my academics too. Dance made me understand the synchronization and coordination between the body, mind and soul. I think it is a beautiful medium of channelizing my energy. Because of dance I came to know a lot of mythological stories. While dancing, we dancers get connected to god and feel complete. I am able to fulfill all my responsibilities and I am physically, mentally and emotionally very healthy. The entire credit goes to my dance. It’s my audience, family and friends who love my ever evolving persona. What else can a person ask for
Q-) You have performed and held workshops in many countries besides India. How has it enriched you mentally and spiritually?
I have been performing and conducting workshops and demonstrations in different parts of the globe. I see a magical pull for the Odissi dance, be in India or abroad. The kind of respect and regard I earn is unbelievably profound. I vividly remember, a lot of times while teaching, my students swell up with deep emotions and some of them start crying in ecstasy. They tell me that they never had the exposure to an art form where they could express emotions in the truest divine form and feel so close to god. Then, there are students who literally touch and kiss my feet showing their love and gratitude for teaching them the expressive language of the soul. These wonderful and fond memories I bring back with me are my treasure.
Teaching and sharing the rich culture of art gives me lot of happiness, and satisfaction. It fills me with positive energy and connects me to people in the most honest form.
Q-) What hurdles are faced by Indian classical dancers both in India and abroad? Does classical dance actually help to remain connected with culture and roots?
Classical dance form is a profession that does not bring in much money. Therefore, first and foremost, dancers who are only dependent on classical dance profession face a lot of financial hurdles. I personally feel that dancers who do not have backing or have a wide network; and the dancers like me who are not very good at lobbying and maintaining a good PR, face uncalled obstacles because it is not only the merit and the talent that goes to make a successful dance profession, but lots of other things are involved in it. That makes the field little dirty.
Second half of the question is very beautiful. We are from the land of temples and Gods, and all classical dances have evolved from temple dancing. I will say yes, of course, classical dance helps us to remain connected with our culture and roots. If we dance from our heart and soul, this dance form as I said earlier, is very divine. If a soul which does not dance with all its sincerity and purity, then it will never be connected to god. When one is dancing a temple art form and not connected to god, then I feel everything becomes fake.
Q-) What is your take on incorporating modern themes in classical dancing? How important is music and recitation in classical dancing?
Yes, I personally feel that classical dance should incorporate modern themes maintaining all its grammar and technique intact. I must say music plays a very important role along with some dialogues in dancing. Music itself creates a mood; it not only creates a mood for the audience but it creates a mood for the performer on the stage as well. The dialogues helps amateur audience to understand the theme well and builds the character. So, I think both play a major role in dance.
Q-) How long do you practice each day? Is it necessary to practice every day?
I practice every day for about two to three hours.
I personally feel it is vital for a dancer to practice every day. We dancers get to perform for one to one and half an hour to dance on stage. Unless the practice is three times more a day, the stamina for the excellent performance cannot be built.
Q-) How do you manage your performances in India and abroad with your school Adyasha Foundation?
Adyasha Foundation has its own senior students now. They are trained by me only and when I travel, they take care of the classes.
Q-) What is your call, a teacher or a performer?
It’s a very difficult question for any dancer. I would say that I would prefer to be a good teacher in the long run, because I feel the new generation needs sincere teachers to train them well for the beautiful art to continue in its own pristine form. I think I will create fine artists contributing to the dance field.
Q-) Curious Hounds is curious to know your future plans in spreading Odissi dance? Where do you see yourself 10 years down the line?
I go to different government schools of different states of India conducting workshops on odissi dance. I observe some children there have great potential to learn, but living in remote places make their talent go unnoticed. My endeavor is to reach the interested lot in such zones, teach and bring their talent to limelight.
Life is very unpredictable. I don’t know where I would be ten years the down the line, but I would keep spreading oddisi dance with the same passion and energy wherever I will go. I also see myself creating new productions, new themes and fine new dancers creating career opportunities for them. I would essentially be into more of mentoring and creating.
Q-) How proud are your Gurus of your dancing style?
It’s not something that my guru has ever told me, but according to the feedback I get, my gurus are very happy with my work. Not only my odissi gurus, but all the gurus of various classical dance form I know personally, love my work. They all appreciate my sincerity in my art. Of course, I understand that there is always a scope for improvement. In fact, I don’t want my guru to be satisfied with my work so that I remain striving to excel.
My heartfelt thanks to Curious Hounds for doing this interview where I got to speak vehemently about myself as a dancer and my intentions in spreading Odissi. It’s been an amazing experience. I wish Curious Hounds a wonderful journey ahead showcasing interesting stories.