Odissi art form evolves

In the world of classical Indian dance, Odissi is renowned for its graceful movements, intricate storytelling, and mesmerizing performances. Traditionally dominated by female dancers, Odissi has seen a significant evolution in recent years, with male dancers breaking stereotypes and proving their prowess in this age-old art form. 

Male dancers performing an Odissi dance
Male dancers performing Kali (image courtesy: Rudrakshya Foundation)

The Rudrakshya Foundation

The Rudrakshya Foundation, based in India and led by Guru Bichitrananda Swain, has been making waves with its exceptional all-male Odissi dance troupe. While dedicated to preserving the Odissi tradition, what truly sets them apart is their commitment to challenging gender norms, placing a unique emphasis on developing new work for the Purushang (male form). This innovative approach not only provides a platform for male dancers to excel but also adds a fresh perspective to the rich tapestry of Odissi dance.

Guruji recalls his own personal journey that led him to this dance form, “Ever since I was a child my soul pushed me towards dance. Back then, growing up in a village in Odisha’s Khorda district, we could only hear music on the radio and when there were weddings in the village. Often, when the wedding music would play nearby, I would dance by myself in the dark in my home.”

Pioneering Rudrakshya Odissi

His father wanted him to pursue education and go to college. However, when he was 18, he somehow managed to get into Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, even though he had no previous dance experience, and started learning Odissi under stalwarts like Guru Pankaj Charan Das and Guru Deba Prasad Das

“I also took private lessons from Guru Gangadhar Pradhan as well as Aruna Mohanty. After 6 years at the Mahavidyalaya , I joined the Odissi Research Center, where I continued my training under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Sanjukta Panigrahi and Kumkum Mohanty. Eventually, I started teaching. I spent a year teaching at Nrityagram, I was the Odissi teacher there.

In 1992-93, I returned to Bhubaneswar and joined Guru Gangadhar Pradhan’s group as a teacher, and in 2000 I parted ways with him to start Rudrakshya Odissi in a rental space, where we continue to live in and run classes to this day.”

The Gurukul

Rudrakshya is run as a gurukul, where 14 boys live and learn with guruji in his rented home. “I don’t turn anyone away and I believe the relationships you build outside of family are often stronger and more loving. For Odissi dance a rich inner spiritual life is very important,” adds Guru Swain. Rudrakshya Foundation plays a pivotal role in providing these talented dancers with a nurturing and supportive environment in which to thrive.

Presented by Odissi VilasYuva Bharati, and iGurukul Foundation, Guru Swain’s ensemble will hold a special performance on October 8th. It will feature several performances by eight male dancers and a solo by Guru Vishnu Tattva Das, founder and artistic director of Odissi Vilas. What will immediately strike audiences during the performance is the precision and unity of the dancers. Their movements are impeccably synchronized, reflecting years of rigorous training and dedication. Their repertoire spans a wide range of traditional Odissi pieces – from graceful tributes to Lord Krishna, to powerful depictions of mythological tales. Their ability to effortlessly switch between different moods and expressions leaves one captivated and moved.

Two-day Berkeley workshop

To the delight of Bay Area Odissi dancers, the Rudrakshya Foundation taught a very rigorous two-day dance workshop in Berkeley over the weekend and will be hosting another short two-hour workshop in Fremont on Oct. 7th.

Admittedly, breaking free from entrenched gender stereotypes in the realm of classical dance has not been without its hurdles. “I always wanted to be a dancer, but honestly there was not much scope for male dancers in Odissi dance. I wanted to develop a style that would complement the male form. My vision was to create choreography that complement the male form and showcase dancers more dramatically on stage,” adds Guru Swain. 

As they continue to grace stages across the globe, the Rudrakshya Foundation’s all-male Odissi dance ensemble serves as an unceasing source of inspiration for aspiring dancers and a resounding reminder that passion and determination can surmount any obstacles, allowing the resplendent beauty of Odissi dance to shine forth in all its glory.

Venue: Cubberley Theater

4120 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto, CA 94306

October 8, 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM

Click here to get your tickets!

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor,...