The first of four dance programs included in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s India in Focus festival welcomes one of India’s premiere classical-dance troupes. Nrityagram Dance Ensemble performs its work Samyoga: An Ode to Love, on Sat., Oct. 3, at the Byham Theater. The show opens the Pittsburgh Dance Council season.
Nrityagram is a proponent of Odissi, a sacred, traditional dance form that dates to 200 BCE. In Samyoga: An Ode to Love, dancers Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy will showcase Odissi’s meticulous hand and arm movements, isolated torso movements and the sensual grace that give it the illusion of ancient temple sculptures come to life.
Set to original music by Pandit Raghunath Panigrahi, performed live, the work comprises solos and duets choreographed by Sen on themes of confluence and togetherness. “We have been dancing together for the past 22 years and have developed a special chemistry on stage,” said Satpathy, speaking by phone recently from San Francisco, where the company was performing. Sen created the 90-minute Samyoga to celebrate that longtime partnership, says Satpathy.
“Nrityagram is a unique kind of [dance] school,” says Satpathy, who joined the school in 1993. “The training is modeled after the ancient student-teacher relationship where you live and learn with the teacher. Learning is almost a way of life.” In Nrityagram, Satpathy says, she found a more intense level of training than at her former school in Orissa, the birthplace of Odissi. The training solidified her understanding of Odissi and made her a better dancer.
In keeping with tradition, Samyoga begins with an invocation dance. It is followed by an abstract duet that showcases Odissi’s lyricism and technique. Then each of the women performs “expressional” solos based on a 12th-century love ballad where the dancers take on the characters of Hindu demi-gods and lovers Krishna and Rahad. Sen, as Rahad, will dance a solo of heartache and betrayal over Krishna. Satpathy, as Krishna, will dance one in which he cajoles Rahad into forgiving his indiscretions. The two dancers then come together for the program’s final duet about the Hindu deity Shiva and his form of half-man and half-woman.