Dance can unify people of all cultures, says Surupa Sen

By Sabrina Almeida

Acclaimed Odissi dancer, Surupa Sen shared her experiences as Nrityagram’s first and oldest student with Can-India. She and her troupe recently performed alongside Canadian and international dance companies in the first Fall For Dance North festival in Toronto.



Photo Credit: Rupert Lorhalda

Mississauga, October 16 (CINEWS): Members of India’s classical dance school Nrityagram made their Toronto debut at the city’s brand new festival, Fall For Dance North at the end of last month. Here are excerpts of an interview with their artistic director and choreographer, Surupa Sen who also performed at the festival.

What first brought you to Nrityagram?
I wanted to study under the traditional system of the ‘guru-shishya parampara’ wherein students live with their guru and imbibe the spirit of the guru as much as learning the art. When I visited Nrityagram for the first time, it seemed the perfect setting to study dance in this disciplined manner.

Tell us about your partnership with Bijayini Satpathy.
We first met in 1993 and danced together for Nrityagram’s first performance tour to the US. Ever since the first time we met, our relationship as artists has been special and she has become the muse for all of my choreographic works. It has been magical to dance with her and I hope it is magic for those who see us dance too!

You’ve been with Nrtiyagram almost since its inception. What has been your experience as its first and oldest student?
Protima Gauri was my guru and taught me to believe in my dreams. She set active examples in everything she expected us to follow and learn. Whether it was about dance or life. The two have never been separate for us since and dance has become life itself. Living in Nrityagram has meant learning about the inter-relatedness of all things and how your art is directly or indirectly informed by the way you live and the impressions you imbibe. Living in a community of dancers for 25 years, teaching and caring for each other has been challenging yet fulfilling in inexpressibly beautiful ways. I do not believe there is any better way to learn a traditional art form such as Odissi.

What are your current responsibilities in Nrityagram?
I am the Artistic Director and Choreographer for the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble. I also teach and perform with the Ensemble.

What does it mean to have performed in Toronto and at Fall for Dance North?
It was a rare, dynamic experience to watch other wonderful artists and share an evening of performance with them. It is a great concept and I love that it is inclusive of artists from all over the world. It brings together on a common platform, glimpses and flavours of different dance styles that invigorate and inspire you to learn more about cultures.

What has your Canadian experience been like?
We have danced in Canada on many occasions and think of this country as a naturally beautiful place with warm, generous people. Our visits here have always been memorable and happy.
This was our first time performing in Toronto, a city that offers great opportunities to people from all walks of life and from all over the world. A perfect setting for an event like Fall for Dance.

Share some of your global experiences with our readers.
We believe that dance speaks a universal language and can unify people from all cultures.
One of the most memorable responses was in Egypt, where we performed at the Cairo Opera House. After the performance a group of burqa-clad ladies was waiting for us outside the theater. They were in tears and the “elder” amongst them blessed us for keeping alive so much beauty! That was deeply touching.
Another response that we are very moved by, is when people (old and young) come up to us to say “You make us proud to be Indian!” This is particularly significant, given the times we live in.

You have said that you ‘live and breathe dance’… can you explain?
We practice a holistic way of life in our dance village Nrityagram and our life revolves around our practice and the discipline it entails. Doing it for 25 years changes the way you think about life itself.

Any message for the young Odissi dancers outside India?
Spend enough time to build an unshakable foundation on which you can grow with confidence. And most of all, go to learn with your glass empty.

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