After the Sarod Trio I had opportunity to photograph Odissi performance called Varnali by Rudraksh Foundation of Bubaneshwar. Varnali, a word taken from Sanskrit, signifies a tumultuous range of colors. True to its name, the Odissi dance performance showed fluid, colorful and graceful movements accompanied by a great choreography.
Challenges in taking photographs of a live performance are many. First you have to understand the form of art your are trying to photograph. Odissi provides ample opportunity as the dance is fluid with several slow movements and postures. Light is varying on the stage so you need to be on your toes to adjust exposure. I usually fix the ISO in 400 or 800 depending on the light. I also used fast lenses like 70-200 f/2.8 & 85mm f/1.2. These lenses gave me a better speed. Most of the time speed needs to be 1/200th of second or more to freeze the action as well as to minimize the shake/blur.
White Balance is very difficult correct as the lights are colored and constantly changing. So better to put them on Auto white Balance and shoot in Raw mode which allows you to correct the white balance in post processing. If I had shot in Jpeg format it would be very difficult to correct the white balance in post processing.
Obstacles in the foreground like lamps and background like the letters are unavoidable. I have tried my best to avoid many of these obstacles by using clever positioning. Some of them I had to remove by cloning out in post processing. But still majority of the obstacles exist. This is unavoidable in such a stage performance where you don’t have control.
Originally, Odissi was not considered one of the main classical dances of India. But its antiquity has been traced to an early sculpture found in the Ranigumpha caves at Udaygiri, Orissa dating to the 2nd century BCE. Thus, Odissi appears to be the oldest classical dance rooted in rituals and tradition of ancient times. In fact, the Natya Shastra refers to Odra Magadhi as one of the vrittis and the word Odra refers to Orissa.
Like most of the South Indian classical dances of India, Odissi has its origin in the Devadasi tradition, where it was initially performed in the temples as a religious offering by the ‘Maharis’ who dedicated their lives in the service to the Divine.
Odissi is considered a dance of love, joy and intense passion, pure, divine, and human. Over a period of time, three schools of Odissi dance developed: Mahari, Nartaki, and Gotipau. The Mahari system traces its roots to the Devadasi tradition. The dance form of Odissi that developed in royal courts is called the Nartaki tradition. In the Gotipau tradition of Odissi dance, young boys dress up in female attires and enact female roles.
One of the most distinguishing features of Odissi dance is the Tribhangi. The notion of Tribhangi divides the body into three parts: head, bust and torso. The postures dealing with these three elements are called Tribhangi. This concept has created the very characteristic poses which are more curvaceous than in other classical Indian dances. Mudra is also an important component of Odissi dance. The term Mudra means “stamp”, and is a hand position which suggests a wide array of symbolism and emotion. Odissi themes are most often religious in nature, and many revolve around expressing the stories of Lord Krishna.
Odissi was revived in post-independent India, as a neo-classical form, by a group of scholars and dance teachers, who formed the group known as Jayantika. Each one of the four dance teachers, revivalists of an old dance tradition, Pankaj Charan Das, Kelu Charan Mahapatra, Deba Prasad Das, and Mayadhar Raut, was characterized by a love of the dance, a struggle through poverty and adverse conditions in pursuit of their love for the art form, and an exposure to the art of stagecraft. Although Odissi moved from temple to theater and lost some of its spiritual quality, except as a dramatic device, without this coming together of four great dancers and the move into a theater venture, the dance would have been totally lost to posterity as an art form.
Rudraksh Foundation of Bubaneshwar with the vision to embody the best of the ancient tradition of Odissi Dance, while at the same time breathing new life into the art form through innovative choreography and providing training to develop exceptionally skilled dancers.
Guru Bichitrananda Swain is considered to be one of the leading choreographers in a new generation of Odissi Dance masters. His Choreography reflects an in-depth knowledge of Odissi, both in the nritta, or pure dance and the nritya, or expressional dance. It has a distinct vision both in the theoretical and practical components of dance particularly for the Purush Ang or male dance form.
I thank all the dancers, Mamata Das, Sarita Mishra, Sanjukta Dutta, Debashree Patnaik, Lingaraj Pradhan (who was exceptional in his portrayal of Karna), Amulya Kumar Balabantaray, Bikash Kumar Nayak, Abhaya Kumar Parida, Rashmi Ranjan Barik and Pabitra Kumar Pradhan who entertained us on that night.
During the two hour Odissi performance, I photographed over 500 photos out of which I got over 430 good photos. Culling the exceptional photos out of that took me over a week of work and it I feel is the most tedious work of the lot. This selection process has given me a opportunity to self criticize my work and improve on the composition skills.
6 thoughts on “Varnali – An Odissi Performance”
Fantastic expressions capture. Most of the pictures have got that dynamic mood in them. Very good pics.
Very good , liked those set of photographs performers in blue colored dress.
Wonderful images. Shooting in RAW has really helped in getting the skin tones back in processing. In few photos the hand movement has blocked the face which is a bit distracting. Also the blue dress photos have very good skin tones but few red dress photos seem to have little harsh orange skin tones. Just an observation.
Prem Anandh P.
Fantastic pictures Dr. Krishna!
Wonderful description of photography and dance as well.