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The Japanese Odia

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I was astounded by her beauty for the entire period of our conversation and dumbfounded for a while. She looks nothing like her magnificent self in the photos of her website, but her presence is ethereal, nevertheless. With loosely tied ponytail and dressed in a simple T-shirt and a pair of capris, she might look like any ordinary woman. But she is far from ordinary. One of her kind, she is a Japanese Odissi dancer, who has been living in Bhubaneswar for the past 15 years.

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A professional Odissi dancer who has enchanted the world audience with her performance, she is one of the 100 most respected Japanese people in their respective fields as selected by Newsweek Japan in 2008. Not just Odissi, she is also adept at western classical ballet, Jazz and Hip Hop. The name is Masako Ono.

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Born in Tokyo, Masako’s rendezvous with dance began much before she was even born. Her parents, incidentally first met at a dance class. They have been instrumental with Masako’s exposure to various forms of dance—contemporary and classical. But from a very young age, she was in pursuit of a dance form that appealed to her on a spiritual level.

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A friend gave her a CD recorded with the performance of a great dancing legend, the late Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra and bingo! Masako related to the presentation; it was almost equal to something that she had been seeking in terms of spirituality and creativity.

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She straight went to the Indian embassy in Tokyo who directed her to Nrityagram in India. The year was 1996. She has never looked back since.

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Nrityagram had a grueling routine: dancers undergo eye exercises, yoga and pranayam sessions and extensive dance lessons. I was a little curious as to what yoga and pranayam had to do with dancing. “Through pranayam, you not just control your breathing, but also become aware of your innate self and the ultimate state of being. Yoga gives you the ability to be in control of every muscle in your body which is supremely essential for a dancer. Furthermore, yoga and dance have one thing in common: they are both forms of divinity,” she explained. And surely, the she can move her body like water.

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Masako believes that to be a dancer one has to be spiritual, not religious. To her, being spiritual and being religious are two different things. That she hails from a completely different culture is immaterial. She believes in Jagannath as much as any self-respecting Odia. She might not be admissible into the Jagannath temple of Puri, but she definitely connects to that higher form through dance, which is her obeisance paid to the Lord.

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She has come a long way—literally. From the bustling city of Tokyo, the serenity and slow-paced life in Odisha is refreshing. She can let her hair down here and focus on her art. To her, the trials and tribulations in life are mundane and nothing extraordinary. “It is something that everybody has to go through and mine is nothing unusual or unique,” she said with utmost humility.

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Masako Ono Performing Arts (MOPA) group is her brain child. With many contemporary dance styles, yoga lessons and Odissi dance sessions, MOPA group has found many takers in the city—kids, foreigners and localities alike. MOPA, in association with Mudra Foundation have been instrumental in organizing Odisha Biennale, a bi-yearly, week-long program of artist talks, performances, workshops, film screenings and guided tours. The second edition of this event is scheduled on 26th October 2015.

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When asked about the man in her life, she gave a huge grin and said vociferously, “I am married to dance!”

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