A Blend of Reality and Fantasy

A classroom full of Odissi dancers. Each one experienced and determined to make the best of the week long dance workshop at NCPA (National Center for Performing Arts, Mumbai). I was late and so I dropped my bag and quickly joined everyone trying to keep up with their speed and vigor. Right in the front of the class I saw her, clapping, narrating the taal and checking each of our movements. 

Awe-inspiring Sujata Mohapatra

She had big eyes that looked straight into mine while she nodded to acknowledge my presence. That was her! Sujata Mohapatra……the name I have googled, you tubed, researched and dreamt about for years. I was like a teenager with a crush. Every time Sujata aapa looked at me my heart skipped a beat and I felt 400 butterflies fly around simultaneously in my tummy.  

As I danced, I acquainted myself to the place and the people around me. We were 22 dancers from different parts of the world and probably spoke a dozen different languages but each and every one of us knew the steps like we had always been classmates. 

New experiences and new friendship 🙂
Sujata aapa’s voice beamed through the room as I struggled to keep up with her pace. She walked us through the schedule of the workshop. The workshop was a part of the Mudra dance festival that took place simultaneously at the NCPA theaters. NCPA was the brainchild of JRD Tata and Dr Jamshed Bhabha, two visionaries who saw India’s need for an all-encompassing performing arts centre and built NCPA in 1969 on land reclaimed from the sea.  There was something very artistic about this. Art and culture add character to a city and NCPA does that for Mumbai. Even if it had to be on reclaimed land 🙂 We rehearsed in the Sea View room of the TATA theatre. And the view from there was undoubtedly spectacular.

 Sujata aapa taught us an abhinay (theatrical dance) piece called ‘Braja ku chora‘. It is a beautiful enactment of a mother’s effort to put her little one to bed. She tries to frighten, threaten, pamper and sing for him in an attempt to make him sleep. Dance has the power to express thoughts and ideas that sometimes even words fall short of. Specially when the dancer is as effortless and convincing as Sujata Mohapatra. 
This year’s dance festival was themed on motherhood. A beautifully conceived concept that speaks of the relationship a dancer shares with her mother. A relationship built on gratitude and gratefulness from the dancer and support and encouragement from the mother. Yet there comes a point in most dancers lives where she fears the commitment motherhood requires and often decides to live a life solely dedicated to her art.
The Mudra dance festival highlighted this disconnect between dancers and mothers by laying a platform for a fresh genre of performing artists. The mother and child duos. Day one of the festival was marked by a performance by Jhelum Paranjape. She paid homage to her mother, who she recently lost, while she danced to songs sung by her son Bunkim Paranjape. It was heartwarming to see them perform together, support each others art forms and understand each others creative independence.  A mother who danced to her son’s tune….quite literally!

Sujata and Preetisha Mohapatra (top right); Experimental Theater at NCPA (bottom right and top left); Jhelum and Bunkim Paranjape (bottom left)
On the last day of the dance festival we watched Sujata Mohapatra and her daughter Preetish Mohapatra dance together. It was hard at times to identify which one of them was the mother and which was the daughter. A great compliment for both the teacher and her student or in this case for a mother and her daughter.  It was a perfect end to this beautiful festival. 

There is an aura in every dancer that makes you want to believe everything they say and do. Its the ease with which they blend fantasy and reality that makes you want to agree with them. I witnessed this when they spoke about balancing motherhood with a career. ‘Show your audience the pleasure of dancing and not the effort thats behind it’. A motto that every dancer tries to live by. Sujata aapa explained motherhood to us with the same ease. Its a picture only a dancer can paint.

The entire experience was particularly special for me as I watched the show with my mother. She’s the reason I was, am and always will be a dancer. So thank you again Ma for always watching over me like its my 1st time on stage. Love you. Happy belated mother’s day!

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