What ‘Kantara’ did to Yakshagana, late Gopal Prasad Dubey did to Seraikella Chhau, a classical dance form inspired by the folk and tribal dances of Jharkhand. Both took the masked dance tradition that is rooted in their respective regions to a global audience. In a tribute to the legendary Seraikella Chhau proponent, who passed away in November last year, the Government Chau Dance Centre Jharkhand and Shreshtha Heritage Foundation are organising a Chhau Dance Festival at Kondajji Basappa auditorium in Bengaluru on April 30.
Dubey, who was awarded the Padma Shri for taking Chhau to the world, was equally comfortable adapting Antigone as he was with Shakuntala for his productions. The evening will see lecture-demonstrations on different types of Chhau dance – Seraikella Chhau from Jharkhand, Mayurbanj Chhau from Odisha and Purlieu Chhau from West Bengal. Tapan Kumar Pattnayak, former director of Government Chhau Dance Centre Jharkhand, Moumita Pal, secretary of Shreshtha Heritage Foundation and dancers Pradeep and Sweety will be introducing the audience to the nuances in the different forms of Chhau. An Odissi performance by Madhulita Mohapatra is also part of the festival. Incidentally, Dubey had also learnt Odissi in the 1990s, when he was choreographing two dance ballets — ‘Jeevan Rekha’ and ‘Dharma Chakra.’ ”Pandit Dubey was a pioneering Seraikella Chhau artiste, who spent most of his life promoting and preserving the art of Seraikella Chhau. I have known him since I moved to Bengaluru. He loved Odissi dance and was very kind and encouraging to me,” said Mohapatra. Just like Yakshagana, Chhau, whose origin is traceable to indigenous forms of dance and martial practices, initially was also performed by an all-male troupe in elaborate costumes and masks.
Although these days women have become a norm for Chhau. Moumita Pal, who learnt Chhau after Mohiniyattam, said as a woman there were no difficulties in becoming a part of a Chhau troupe. ”The difficulty that I faced was that, in Mohiniyattam, the importance is given to facial expressions. But in Chhau, as you have the mask on, you have to convey the message through your bodily movements. But gradually, I fell in love with masks and Chhau. Mask truly liberates us from the limiting influence of facial expressions,” added Pal. But unlike Yakshagana, Seraikella Chhau is not a dance-drama. ”It does not employ dialogue and rather than a clear story line, it often strives to portray through dance a sensation or feeling. The themes of Seraikella Chhau dances range from Indian mythological figures to everyday people and their lives, from aspects of the natural world to abstract expressions,” said Pattnayak, former director of Government Chhau Dance Centre Jharkhand. Inherently religious, like Yakshagana, Chhau too tell stories from Hindu epics and puranas. But Dubey, who had travelled all over the world for his performances, was not afraid to draw his inferences from dances from different cultures. ”Every muscle of his can communicate. Watching him dance was a delight,” said Pattnayak.