Odissi, one of the seven classical dance styles of India, takes its name from Orissa the state in the eastern part of India where it took birth. Unlike western classical dance, which stretches towards the unreachable sky, it takes its stance firmly on the ground, drawing its energy from Mother Earth.
In Odissi, all the parts of the body are used: the head, the neck, the eyes, the torso, the hands and the feet.
The characteristic feature of Odissi is tribhangi, the triple bend position. The feet beat precisely to the rhythms of the drum, while the torso waves gracefully from one side to the other.
Odissi combines lasya, the feminine aspect of grace and charm depicted through tribhangi, and tandava, the masculine aspect depicted through chouka, a symmetrical and balanced posture.
Each dancer must learn the “grammar” of Odissi: vaksha chala (movements of the torso), pada bheda (the position of the feet), bhumis (the movements on the stage), charis (different gait), bhaunris (pirouettes), utplavanam (jumps), mudras (hand gestures), and different exercises of the head, neck and eyes. The practice of asanas (yogic postures) helps to prepare the body for the dynamic movements of the performance. Each dancer must also be well versed in Oriya and Sanskrit literature.
The rich and varied dance repertoire of Odissi comprises both nritta, pure, technical dance, and nritya, expressional dance. These two aspects are represented through the various elements of the performance:
- Mangalacharan, an invocatory dance to a God or Goddess
- Batu Nritta, a pure dance that elaborates the basic movements of Odissi.
- Abhinaya, a dance expressing the sentiments.
- Pallavi, an ornamental piece with various sculpturesque poses.
- Moksha, the dance of liberation.