Nrityagram Dance Ensemble and Chitrasena Dance Company
June 18, 2021
In a fascinating cultural dialogue delivered through movement and music, renowned dance company Nrityagram Dance Ensemble collaborates with Chitrasena Dance Company in a thrilling performance of Odissi classical dance from India and traditional Kandyan dance from Sri Lanka. Āhuti explores the differences and similarities that bring the two companies together in rhythm, lyrical interludes, physical expression, vibrant colors, and live music. The work engages in a conversation between the distinct dance traditions and movement vocabularies of each country, in the second cross-cultural collaboration between these two acclaimed companies.
Built on the forged bond between Odissi and Kandyan dance through a long association with the Chitrasena Dance Company, Āhuti is an evening-length work that pushes the boundaries of this creative dialogue. Renowned for adapting traditional movements to create dynamic yet harmonious interplay, Nrityagram joins Chitrasena dancers and live musicians.
Performed as far back as 200 B.C. as a sacred ritual dedicated to the gods, Odissi speaks of love and union, between human and divine, transporting viewers to enchanting worlds of magic and spirituality. Its lush lyricism reflects both the motifs of Odisha temple sculpture and the poetry from the deep wellsprings of Oriya music.
Live music is essential to the work, as well. Skilled performers of percussion, flute, and harmonium drive the rhythms of the dance and accentuate its lyrical nature. Even as dance companies have adopted recorded music over the past decades, Nrityagram considers live music intrinsic to its practice.
About Nrityagram Dance Ensemble
One of the premier Indian dance ensembles performing today, the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble (pronounced NRI-thyuh-graam) has the unprecedented distinction of making the New York Times’ “Best Dance of the Year” list two consecutive years in a row (2015 and 2016). More than a dance company, Nrityagram was founded as a gurukula (school) devoted to Indian dance. The all-female ensemble’s daily life of intensive training and meditation brings to the stage compelling captivating performances that are at once sensual and lyrical.
The Nrityagram dance village is located outside Bangalore, India. It was founded in 1990 by Odissi dancer Protima Gauri, who converted farmland into a setting for the study, practice, and teaching of dance. Reminiscent of ancient ashrams where gurus imparted not only technique but also a philosophy of being, this is a creative space where dancers, musicians, and choreographers live together, sharing their skills and developing their art. To enrich their practice, dancers are also taught yoga and martial arts along with Sanskrit and classical literature. As knowledge passes from guru to disciple, the continuity of the classical arts is ensured.
Artistic Director, choreographer, and founding member Surupa Sen began her Odissi training with the architect of Odissi, Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra and Protima Gauri, the founder of Nrityagram. For over two decades, Sen has worked to research and expand the dance vocabulary of Odissi and developed an aesthetic style that distinguishes the dancers from the Nrityagram School.
Sen has choreographed seven full-length ensemble shows, two full-length duet shows, and two full-length solo shows for Nrityagram. In 2019 Sen was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the highest award for the performing arts in India. The company first toured to the United States in 1993 and has become a beloved presence at New York City's Joyce Theater and the American Dance Festival. The company has made multiple appearances in New York City; Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and in Miami, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Davis, California. Nrityagram was awarded National Dance Project support from NEFA in 2000 and 2005.
About Chitrasena Dance Company
Based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Chitrasena Dance Company, the dance troupe collaborating with Nrityagram in this work, is Sri Lanka's oldest dance company and was established in the 1940s by Guru Chitrasena, who was instrumental in bringing Sri Lanka's traditional dances from the village rituals to the modern stage. Today, the dance school and company continue to use traditional dance to create contemporary dance theatre, innovating the ancient and robust Kandyan dance style practiced on the island. The popularity Chitrasena built for Kandyan dance helped reduce the caste barriers surrounding the dance and made it accessible to contemporary audiences. The third generation is led by Heshma Wignaraja, artistic director and eldest granddaughter of Chitrasena, who continues to take forward the legacy of her grandparents. This is Chitrasena's second collaboration with Nrityagram, following the acclaimed Samhara.
This is the first performance at the Moss Arts Center for both Nrityagram Dance Ensemble and Chitrasena Dance Company.
This engagement of Āhuti is made possible through the ArtsCONNECT program of Mid Atlantic Arts with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.