The Odissi Ensemble are a quartet of finely-trained dancers brought together by Kadam to create performance experiences of the highest standards.
They are the only professional odissi company in the UK and are unique in that each artist has a strong individual presence within a collective unity. They perform traditional repertoire re-arranged for group presentation with live musical accompaniment. Since 2018 they have started to create new work to reflect their reality in an environment which is far from the birthplace of odissi.
The Ensemble was formed as a collective in 2015 and their first professional performance took place at the Rich Mix theatre in London on 6 December 2015. Kadam toured their full length show Gods and Mortals with musicians in 2017, funded by ACE to five venues nationally. In 2018 they received a commission from Kadam through the Imagine Luton Festival for an outdoor performance piece. Katie Ryan of the Ensemble conceptualised and choreographed Sacred Shapes which took its inspiration from the geometry of the Sri Yantra mandala. The show was well received and selected by the outdoor arts company Walk the Plank, for a finale performance at the Manchester Divali Mela.
Co-founder of the Odissi Ensemble, is a multi-discipline, experimental dancer and choreographer, working across genres from classical to contemporary which he uses as springboards to venture into greater possibilities. He trained in odissi from the Temple of Fine Arts in Malaysia. He has performed and created dance in South Africa, Canada, Australia, India, Malaysia, France and the UK.
Elena Catalano has built a strong performance profile both as a solo artist and a member of the Odissi Ensemble. Her passion as a performer combined with her precision in form makes her a standout artist. Elena received the Young Dancer Award from Milapfest in 2017. Elena is an academic with a doctorate in Dance Anthropology. She teaches in the dance faculty of Kingston University. She continues to train under Sujata and Ratnikant Mohapatra at Srjan in Odisha.
The original founder member of the Odissi Ensemble along with Kali Chandrasegaram. She trained in the UK at Kadam classes and summer schools reinforced by periods in India with Shankar Behera and Madhavi Mudgal. Katie has a BA Honours from London Contemporary Dance School. Katie has been developing as a choreographer and has to her credit: Kalpavriksha (2011 for Akademi), Le Pecheur du Perles (2013 Holland Park Opera) and Sacred Shapes/Fires (2018 Luton Imagine Festival and Manchester Divali Mela). In 2017 Katie was awarded the Marion North Choreography Mentoring award in 2017.
A dancer and yoga teacher who has been performing both as a duo with Elena Catalano and as a solo artist over the last four years. She has received her training in in odissi from Coleena Shakti in Rajasthan and Sujata Mohapatra at Srjan in Odisha.
Khavita Kaur has been performing odissi for over a decade for companies such as Akademi Kadam and Walk the Plank. She was also a member of the first avatar of the Odissi Ensemble set up in 2012. She has trained in Malaysia and in Odisha with Guru Durga Charan Ranbir.
London-based singer Ranjana Ghatak has worked nationally and internationally as both an artist and composer. She has performed as a guest singer with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Nitin Sawhney and Akram Khan’s Svapnagata festival (Sadler’s Wells), Opera Shorts at the Royal Opera House, and at the Barbican. Ranjana has collaborated closely with Katie Ryan firstly giving vocal accompaniment to Katie’s Manch Pravesh in 2009 and subsequently composing My Soul is Alight 2015 and the music for Sacred Shapes 2018.
Parvati Rajamani has a long and deep association with odissi dance. Currently she teaches in Bedford for 21st Century Education Trust, and in association with her Guru Madhavi Mudgal is working on formalising the odissi syllabus in line with the ISTD (Imperial Society for Teachers of Dancing) programme. She is the Artistic Director of Ananda Arts which aims to promote odissi in the UK.
Gurdain Rayatt is a disciple of tabla maestro Pandit Shankar Ghosh with over 20 years’ experience performing tabla solos and accompanying musicians and dancers including Pandit Birju Maharaj, Smt. Shashwati Sen, Niladri Kumar, Kala Ramnath. He performs cross-culture world fusion music and teaches in North London.
May is a UK-based violinist creating and collaborating with artists in a wide range of styles. Her roots are in the early music world, performing with various baroque orchestras and the medieval band Joglaresa. After an English degree at Cambridge University she studied the violin at Trinity Laban and the Royal Conservatory of The Hague.
Odissi is a classical dance born in the temples of eastern India and found represented in carvings on the walls of caves and temples. The classical stage art we see today was formed by pioneering gurus of the mid-20th century who worked to revive the form as India gained its independence. The style is marked by its sculpturesque positions and the use of the torso to give a flowing, sensuous nature. Grounded positions lend an earthy quality to the dance, whilst detailed use of gesture and expression add emotional subtlety.
Odissi ‒ The Origins and History
Odissi is the dance form associated with the state of Odisha, formerly Orissa, on the east coast of India. Kalinga is its ancient name, remembered as the battleground where in 270 BC, King Ashoka converted to Buddhism on seeing the horror of war. Buddhism became the dominant religion in India for the next 700 years.
When Hinduism made a comeback, there was a period of fervent temple-building: Shiva temples in Bhubaneswar and the famous Jagganath temple in Puri. As part of temple ritual, the practice of maharis ‒ females dedicated to serving deities by singing and dancing ‒ became widespread. So odissi dance has its roots in temple ritual.
A second strand of influence is the acrobatic feats performed by pre-pubescent boys known as gotipuas. The dramatic elements of the form come from travelling players, the jatra troupes that performed episodes from Hindu epics.
Odissi dance, in its post-Independence reconstruction, was inspired by the imagery of temple sculptures and the patachitra (leaf paintings), as well as the flora and fauna depicted in regional arts and crafts such as handloom.
As a dance form, odissi does not have the length of lineage of kathak or bharatanatyam. In 1952 at an historic Inter-State Youth Festival odissi pioneer Priyambada’s dance, combining three items of the newly-formed repertoire, was only eight minutes long. Today the same three items would last forty minutes.
In the early days of reconstruction, founding gurus Pankaj Charan Das, Debrapasad Das, Mayadhar Raut and Kelucharan Mahapatra collaborated in the Jayantika group to set the odissi margam, achieving official recognition of odissi as a classical style in 1958. These pioneers went on to develop their own repertoire, creating distinct schools within the form. However, one can state with confidence that 60 to 70 per cent of the odissi items performed by leading odissi exponents Sujata Mohapatra, Madhavi Mudgal and the late Sanjukta Panigrahi have been created by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, one of the key architects of the form.
There are two basic stances: the square chowka with turn-out at the hip and bent knees matched by the right-angle bend at the elbows, displaying the masculine tandavaquality; and the three-bend tribhanga which best symbolises the style, setting up a zigzag line from inclined head to shoulder, deflected hip and bent knee, representing the lasya or the feminine aspect.
Intrinsic to every movement is the use of torso, a hallmark of the odissi form. The variety and subtlety of the bhangis (postures) employ co-ordination of torso, head, neck and eyes, combined with footwork to create the movement vocabulary.
Traditionally the opening item, mangalacharan, is usually an invocation to Ganesha or Saraswati, but can also be dedicated to Jagganath, Shiva and Parvati. This is often followed by the batu nritya or sthai which displays the fundamental positions of the style, then the pallavi in which a raga is explored through melodic and rhythmic variations. Odissi music is unique: many of Kelubabu’s choreographies were set to music by the late Bhubaneshwar Mishra, a Carnatic violinist. The ragas selected for pallavis are both Carnatic: saveri, shankarabarnam and arabhi, and Hindustani kirwani. The rhythm cycles used are variations of ekatali (four matras, counts), aditala (eight matras) and talas of fives and sevens. The musical structures are less developed than other styles, so the variety of tehais used is still limited.
For abhinaya, odissi relies on the twelfth-century poet Jayadeva’s astapadis, eight couplet verses in Sanskrit, describing the erotic love between Radha and Krishna. Kelubabu has choreographed half a dozen into what has become the main body of the odissi sringar-rasa repertoire. However, traditional Oriya songs are also becoming increasingly popular in the dance repertoire.
Among the current generation of artists, new choreographies are being set by Madhavi Mudgal, who has a deep understanding of the musical structures. Her ragamalika pallavi combining a number of jatis that she taught in Manchester at Kadam’s 2006 Summer School is an enchanting composition. Surupa Sen and Bijayani Satpathy of Nrityagram dance many of their own compositions and Ratikant Mohapatra is creating new items particularly for groups.