PETALING JAYA, April 9 — When Datuk Ramli Ibrahim rolled out Sutra Dance Theatre’s Odissi on High last July, the unorthodoxly fast-paced traditional Indian dance performance was a hit among audiences young and old.
This year, the breathtaking performance not only returns but will make its way to India to delight odissi followers across eight cities.
Sutra dancers along with five male dancers from the Rudrakshya Foundation will tour India from May 4 to May 17 beginning with Bhubaneswar before it is staged in Kolkata, New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru.
Ramli and Guru Bichitrananda Swain will resume their positions as artistic directors for the technically-demanding choreography.
“Bringing Odissi on High to India would be the perfect vehicle for a Malaysia-India collaboration. There has been quite a lot of talk surrounding Malaysia-India relations both economically and politically,” Ramli told Malay Mail.
Although he frequently travels to India, Ramli admitted there is extra pressure performing in Bhubaneswar, the birthplace of odissi.
“I’m very nervous about Bhubaneswar,” he said.
“Orissa has a very emotional audience and I think there’s also a cartel looking at other people performing their dance, so they are even more critical.”
It is perhaps important to note that during a tour of India in 2005, Ramli’s effigy was burned because Sutra dancers did not wear the odhni (the sash that covers a dancer’s torso), a move that was deemed a departure from tradition.
“We had to be escorted in our vehicle by commandos because there was a threat,” he recalled.
“So, whenever we perform in Orissa now, because we don’t want unnecessary controversy, we will wear the odhni and then we will take it off. Other cities like Delhi and Mumbai are more cosmopolitan so they don’t bat an eyelid.”
Closer to home, Odissi on High will meet Malaysian fans for a second season this Thursday onwards at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) before heading to Seremban and Malacca.
A Gala Night will be held tomorrow for donors and will be attended by guest of honour Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali.
Three of Odissi’s Kuala Lumpur shows have been snapped up by the Divine Life Society Malaysia, Dhaya Maju Infrastructure Asia Sdn Bhd and Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia as part of their fundraising.
Conceptually, Odissi on High retains its take on the evolution of the pallavi (pure dance in Odissi repertoire) by two revered names – Kelucharan Mohapatra and Deba Prasad Das – credited for rescuing the artform from extinction in the 1940s and 1950s.
“Although there is nothing different conceptually, there is more refinement this time around where the movements are fine-tuned,” said Ramli.
The dance legend added that he was forced to reexamine the choreography due to the unavailability of some Sutra dancers.
“We lost a couple of dancers who are overseas and had to bring in dancers so that meant having to look at the whole thing again.
“The good thing is other dancers have a chance at performing and we also have the outreach programme kids taking part.”
Tickets for domestic shows available at proticket.com.my or call 03-7880 7999.