| go to entry page | | go to other departments |



Molly McQuade

Walking Pretty

Dance As Fluid Sculpture: A Classical Odissi Dance Recital
by Oopalie Operajita
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
December 5, 2006
Admission: free

The Vibrating Line as Classical Odissi Dance:
A Slide Lecture
by Oopalie Operajita
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
December 6, 2006
Admission: free

Reviewed by Molly McQuade, December 18, 2006

I hold before me the business card of Oopalie Operajita. The card is gold. As one turns and shifts it, the panel glitters. Type font: deep red. Printing: double-sided. One side of the card reads: "Oopalie Operajita, Political Adviser and Strategist, Choreographer and Classical Odissi Danseuse, Adviser to Mr. Naveeen Jindel, Honourable Member of Parliament." The other side reads: "Cicero, A Trans National Advisory, Oopalie Operajita, CEO." [sic]
Well, that is a pretty majestic business card. I was able to eye it when I saw this CEO and danseuse dancing and lecturing recently at Yale University. I doubt that many other gold business cards litter New Haven, and I doubt that many other dancers, even at Yale, have worked during their off-hours as advisors to an honorable member of Parliament.

Luckily, Operajita has done all of the above. I say luckily because her diplomatic and political service may well have helped to hone a certain tactical panache—and dignity—in her stage persona. To mention just one example of how it has, in New Haven I gladly became acquainted with her Odissi "walk." That walk alone, to say nothing of more ornately commanding aspects of the dancing, struck me as beautifully instructive.

During the first of her two Yale appearances, Operajita showed us what is distinctive about the Odissi walk, as compared with the bharata natyam walk. (Both these dance forms are mainstays of the classical Indian heritage, and Operajita knows both intimately.) When a brightly clad, bejeweled bharata natyam dancer walks, her walk might be called a strut: high-minded, a tad worldly, faithfully linear, perhaps a bit smug—conscious and confident of the lady's pedigree and attainments. She picks up her feet like a brocaded, godly cadet. But when an Odissi dancer walks, it no longer seems to be about following a line, whether curved or straight. Rather, it's about how to meander from and how to vary a theme, with gracious humanity.

When she assayed her walk, Operajita wasn't just going someplace, as dancers sometimes do. Instead, she was inviting us to see again. We saw thanks partly to the subtleties of how she altered and adjusted her torso's position and inflection from moment to moment, guided from above by shoulder and from below by hip, without forgetting the integrity of the whole figure.

Meanwhile, she also appeared to "write" with her fingers in the air. Although mime would be the usual word chosen to describe this, writing seems visually more apt. The fingers do seem to draw invisible letters as they dance: mystically coherent, finitely elegant.

The dance program, which took place at the same time on December 5 as Elie Wiesel was booked to address a crowd at another campus gathering, was performed in a Gothic lecture hall overseen, from above, by massive portraits of gloomy past Yale academic chieftains, pale-faced, wearing black robes. Yet the timeless sweetness of a bedecked and gilded Odissi dancer, facing a coterie of fifty or so living onlookers on a gray December evening, lightened New Haven's late autumn doldrums.

Operajita did it without benefit of a printed program or an advance poster, and without a proscenium stage. But then, classical Indian dance, ever since the second century B. C., has demonstrated a shrewd flexibility in accepting widely varying venues, ranging from unpopulated temples to densely attended, dusty courtyards. She did it with diminutive hands, and with brief fingers. She did it thanks to seemingly boneless elbows, and to shoulders that would not recognize bone, either. Through a little chain of curvatures, Operajita insinuated herself into our midst.

On the next afternoon at Luce Hall, a glowing, modern Yale building, Operajita didn't dance at all. Instead, she narrated a slide show documenting five ancient Indian temples covered with bas-reliefs. Bursting with dancing figures, the temple sculpture has given Odissi what Operajita termed its "lexicon": a visible encyclopedia of accepted dance gestures, movements, and positions. The sculpture, marked by time and weather, has survived just as the dance has. She explained the connection between sculpture and dancers this way: "The dancer sculpts perfect form through years of practice."

| lobby | search | home | cue-to-cue | discounts | welcome | film | dance | reviews |
| museums | NYTW mail | recordings | coupons | publications | classified |