Dance all the way

Purnima Sharma in conversation with Odissi dancer Swapnokalpa Dasgupta

Swapnokalpa Dasgupta

T he audience broke into applause each time Swapnokalpa Dasgupta had them spellbound with her  movements. We’re talking about the evening where the odissi dancer was part of the Shivratri Aradhana organised by Natya Tarangini, the cultural institute of Raja Radha and Kaushalya Reddy, in Delhi.

“Even as I waited backstage, just hearing the melodious shloka chants made me feel blessed.” And blessed, she says, she’s been, for, despite a slipped disc in July 2018 that had left her bedridden with the doctor advising her to steer clear of dance, Swapnokalpa got back on stage in just a few months’ time. “This was the first time since then that I was performing a full-length pallavi (a high-energy dance presentation), and it went off well,” says the dancer who presented three choreographies of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, including the invocatory item Ardhanariswar Strotram, the pallavi in Raaga Bageshri, and an abhinaya — an ashtapadi from Jayadev’s Geeta Govinda.

Swapnokalpa, who was trained by the legend Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, until his death in 2004, is presently the head of dance programming at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai. She talks about her journey with dance, which began in the culturally rich environs of Kolkata...

You started learning dance from an early age…

Yes, I was young when I started. And my journey began as my mother and grandmother, who were both into classical music, felt I must follow the dream they once wanted to pursue, but couldn’t. And from what my elders tell me, I was born with twinkletoes and would start dancing the moment I heard music. Here, I must also add that all through my years of education — first in Carmel Convent and then at St Xaviers College — my teachers encouraged me to pursue dance. 

So, it was odissi right from the outset?

Yes, I started with odissi as a little kid, so I think this dance form chose me. Well, my journey with it started when I started training with Guru Giridhari Nayekji. And just a few years later, I got the opportunity to attend a dance workshop by guruji Kelucharan Mohapatra.

It was in that workshop that he asked my parents to get me to his hometown, Bhubaneswar, for classes during vacations. So, for the next decade or so, that’s where I went. And after getting back, I practised his items with Guru Poushali Mukherjee in Kolkata and Guru Sujata Mohapatraji, and Guru Ratikant Mohapatraji at Srjan, the dance institutute founded by Guru Kelubabu in Bhubaneswar. I am now under the tutelage of Guru Dr Kanak Rele in choreography.

Tell us about the legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra...

Guruji was the prime example of simple living and high thinking. I remember him saying that while the practice of dance makes you a proficient dancer, you become a good artiste only if you have humility. When I got the opportunity to learn from guruji, I was still too young to grasp how fortunate I was. I had just finished my graduation when he passed away. That was tragic. I remember him as a father figure who was affectionate with all his students. He instilled in me the love for practice. 

Do you believe in the ‘guru-shishya parampara’?

Oh yes, I am a firm believer in it, and even learning from an individual as opposed to a video. A guru will teach you values.

How should one draw the line between encouragement and criticism when training a ‘shishya’?

Dance is a way of life, and it’s for everyone. But if you are taking the responsibility of representing a dance form in its purest form, then you have to put in efforts to imbibe its nuances. It becomes the responsibility of the teacher to give feedback to the student. So, criticism is important too as it’s meant to take you down the right path. I often use hasya rasa to communicate a sharp criticism to an adult student so that she laughs and still gets the point!

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