As Nrityagram gives glimpses of 'a decade of dance making', its main forces, Odissi dancers Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy, talk about their magical synergy on stage and long friendship off it
For Odissi dancers Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy, the realisation of their movements on stage being in complete sync was instant when they performed together for the first time. If they needed any confirmation, it came from the late Protima Bedi, founder of Nrityagram. In 1993, Nrityagram, a 10-acre dance residency located 35 km from Bangalore, was three years old and trying to establish its foothold in the world of classical dance. This is the time when Satpathy — who was handpicked by Bedi from Orissa to be part of her dance ensemble — was asked to present 'Moksha', the final and most soul-stirring segment of the Odissi dance repertoire, along with Sen, who had joined the residency soon after its opening. Bedi called them "carbon copies of each other" and the performance photographs validated her statement as they captured the dancers' synchronised steps and postures.
Sen and Satpathy remember that evening vividly. It was instrumental in inspiring them to turn life-long collaborators. After Bedi's death in a landslide in 1998, they have also become faces of Nrityagram and its main forces along with its managing trustee Lynne Fernandez. Today, Sen calls Satpathy her "dance muse". Most of Nrityagram's pieces are choreographed by Sen, who is its artistic director. But it is Satpathy, director of Nrityagram's Odissi Gurukul, who realises them on stage. Their work was recently showcased in South Africa as part of "Excerpts: A decade of dance making".
"All of Surupa's choreographies are directly proportional to what my body can do," says Satpathy, simplifying the creative process that they have developed over the years and adds, "I am the material through which she explores the range of her creativity." At the root of such a symbiotic relationship are their amazingly identical dance sensibilities and passion for their art. "It can take a lifetime to find such chemistry in a dance partner. It's a gift that we have got," says Sen. The most impressive proof of their partnership is Vibhakta, a piece based on Adi Shankaracharya's strotam on Ardhanareeswara. As this piece explores the unique form of Lord Shiva as half-man and half-woman, it captures Sen and Satpathy dancing in perfect harmony.
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