Bhubaneswar: One of the oldest surviving classical dance forms of India, Odissi is known for its lithe body movements, beautiful postures and facial expressions. Drawn to its lyrical grace, several foreign artistes have made it their own and among them is Paris-based Mahina Khanum.
From a Sambalpuri duet with internationally-acclaimed Odissi dancer Saswat Joshi of Odisha at the iconic Eiffel Tower to organizing events such as the Paris-Odisha Week and the Paris Indian Classical Dance Festival, she has been striving to showcase the beauty of Odissi before the global audience for the last 10 years.
Mahina recently released a series of striking pictures shot in Bhubaneswar titled, Lights of Odisha. The pièce de résistance of this project is the element of lightpainting along with the elegant poses struck by the dancer with temples of Bhubaneswar in the backdrop.
“I am aware of the difficulties people face while decoding the cultural symbolism and aesthetics of Odissi in France and therefore, I focus on providing the Western audience with tools to better understand and appreciate the wonders of this dance form,” said Mahina.
She was accompanied by her husband Avishai Leger-Tanger (who had conceptualised the project and prepped for it in France) and a local shutterbug, Debiprasad Sahoo and shot at Mukteswar and Aisaneswara temples in Bhubaneswar on the themes, Celebrating Odisha, Bodily Transcendence, Divine Presence, Pallavi and Destroying the Evil.
“I titled one of the pictures ‘Bodily transcendence’ because it expresses the original purpose of Odissi dance (and some other classical dances), seeking to achieve union with God through the body,” Mahina clarified.
They chose to shoot at Mukteshwar temple because of its interesting night lighting and spacious premises that gave them the opportunity to try bigger creations. Aisaneswara with its remoteness and calm ambience was just perfect for expressing a very personal encounter with God, according to Mahina.
“It was a big challenge to shoot for this project. We needed temples with no lights or minimum lighting. With the help of the people of the Mukteswar temple we somehow managed. Capturing these pictures took a lot of patience and multiple attempts were made to make it picture-perfect. We shot for hours in the cold dark nights to get the proper angle and the right frame keeping the focus on the lighting, the subject and the backdrop. But pixelstick was the ultimate game changer,” said an excited Debiprasad.
Notably, pixelstick is a long narrow tool with about 200 LED lights with a controller that displays and projects stored images in a single line.
This Parisian beauty aims to explore technologies that can be infused with Odissi (while preserving its purity) to showcase this performing art on the international platform. While, her earlier projects include first 360° video of Odissi dance, the first Odissi choreography in VR (virtual reality), she is currently working on computer animation of Odissi, lightpainting Odissi dance photography and holographic performance.
She celebrated Ratha Jatra last year in Stratsbourg, France with an Odissi performance. “Though most of my Odissi training has been outside Odisha, my trips to Bhubaneswar for projects invoke a strong emotional connection to the land that gave birth to the dance that is closest to my heart. It is said that Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra was inspired by the way Odia women walk or sit and I do think there is something particularly graceful about Odia women,” said Mahina.
A student of Guru Shankar Behera since 1999 and Guru Madhvi Mudgal since 2005, this Odissi danseuse has dedicated herself to promote Odissi in France and abroad, staging performances in India, the UK, North and West Africa.
She organised the Paris Odisha Week (Semaine des danses de l’Odisha), a carnival to explore Odia culture last summer. It included folk dance workshops, Odia handloom, video and photo shoots, among others primarily for her students.
It was in that framework that she collaborated with Saswat Joshi and made the Rasarkeli video at Eiffel Tower.
Apart from Odissi, she is a choreographer and dance teacher of Bollywood dance style to 150 students in her academy called Mahina Khanum School of Dance (Ecole de danse Mahina Khanum) in Paris.