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A helping 'mudra'

Dancers convey agricultural needs

Published: Monday, June 18, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07

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A helping 'mudra'

Dancers convey agricultural needs

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It almost feels like one is in India: the costumes, the music, the bells, the dancing. The North American Odissi Convention in its first showcase performed the earliest Indian classical dance Saturday in Rudder Forum.

“Odissi is a type of Indian classical dance that’s from the Orissa state in India,” said senior biomedical sciences major Radhika Achari, Odissi dancer and president of the International Institute for Culture and Performing Arts Development. “All the different dances are either stories of the different deities, gods and goddesses or just pure dance. It’s very feminine, very graceful —lots of bends and curves.”

Dancers wear vibrant-colored, traditional costumes made from silk. Silver jewelry covers the dancers from head to toe and a white headdress balances on top of the dancer’s head. Bells are wrapped around the dancer’s waist and ankles jingle at every stomp and every shake.

Odissi is a dance that focuses on intricate mudras (hand gestures), emotional bhavas (facial expressions), complicated footwork and agile body movement.

“It’s amazing how they are able to use their whole bodies to tell the story and especially captivating are their faces, in terms of their eyes and the moving of their head. I’m just captivated watching them and I can’t decide what part of the body to look at — the hands, the feet, everything is telling the story” said Kim Dooley, associate dean for academic operations in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Besides the dancing, Aparupa Chatterjee sees Odissi and other forms of the performing arts as a gateway to agricultural reform in poverty-stricken regions such as those found in India. Chatterjee is working on her doctoral degree in agriculture and life sciences.

“My research focuses on how performing arts can be used as a delivery strategy in agricultural education and international development,” Chatterjee said.

Dooley, who is also Chatterjee’s co-adviser, supports Chatterjee’s research and mission.

“Often times traditional techniques for delivery of strategies and work in the community do not work,” she said. “So we are very excited to search how performing arts can be used as a tool to train women in agriculture development in international settings.”

Traveling to various parts in India including her hometown of Calcutta, Chatterjee has used her dance skills to captivate and entertain the audience, but also to help Indian farmers.

“In the rural areas they are all farmers. Not all farmers are educated, so if you tell them a terminology for technology they might not get it. But if you show them through actions they might get it better.”

Having taught Odissi of all ages throughout Texas and in Maryland and Virginia, Chatterjee continues to spread Odissi as both an art form and a way to communicate agriculture improvement in impoverished areas.


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