For New Englanders who appreciate Indian classical dance, performances set to pre-recorded music are often par for the course. Therefore, when a practitioner like Mouli Pal teams up with musicians to present an Odissi concert accompanied by live music, the event is worth noting. Pal is the artistic director of Massachusetts-based Upasana dance school and has presented Odissi concerts in New England for many years. "Journey to Orissa," held at Wellesley College on Oct. 5, was her first concert set to live music.
The concert, which was part of The Wellesley College Concert Series, drew a large audience that included many outside the Indian community. "Journey to Orissa" followed the structure of a typical Odissi concert, beginning with Mangalacharan and concluding with Mokshaya. A disciple of the legendary Odissi Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Mouli Pal chose many pieces that her guru had choreographed. For the uninitiated, the dances were a great introduction to the many legends from Hinduism that Odissi depicts. Following Pal in the Magalacharan, Payal Mistry and Shamoyita Mukherjee, two of Upasana's dancers, captured the sculpturous poses of Odissi in the Batu. The vocals were lively in this piece, matching the pace of the dance. The Geeta Govindam, in which Mouli Pal portrayed Radha pining for Krishna's love, was the highlight of the evening. As Pal explained in the introduction, Radha's yearning for union with Krishna is just as the human mind yearns for eternal peace. Pal's feelings for this song were evident through the meditative quality of her abhinaya. All the elements of the music worked exceptionally well in this piece. For the finale, Mokshaya, the three dancers presented a prayer to Goddess Durga. The dance struck just the right note for the day, which also happened to be the first day of the Navratri festival.
The musicians made their mark from the first dance, doing what they were there to do — enhance the dancers' attempts at conveying stories to the audience. The team included artists respected in their fields, including New Jersey-based Phil Hollenbeck on the mardala. Gopi Shanker accompanied on the flute and Sahana Srinivasan on the violin, along with vocalists Ujjwal Parikh and Shraddha Agarwal. Sahana Srinivasan is a junior at Lexington High School, but her command of the instrument made it easy for her to keep pace with the veterans on stage.
As Mouli Pal addressed the audience at the end of the program, she gave due credit to the musicians, capturing the spirit of the concert. "It was a journey into the music of dance," she said. "The dancer is only the medium," she added, pointing out that the musicians create the rasa, and the dancer transmits it.