An impression of Japanese Odissi dancer Masako Ono
A short and rather bland email announcement mentioned that Japanese dancer Masako Ono would give an Odissi dance performance in the Sri Aurobindo auditorium of Bharat Nivas. Nothing new, was my first response. After all, there have been many Odissi performances in Auroville, several of excellent quality, and what more can be expected? Still, the name was intriguing. Why does a Japanese dance Odissi? And what qualities would she bring to it?
The performance provided all the answers. A speaker explained that Masako fell in love with India at a very early age, later majoring in Indo-Pakistan studies and learning the two major languages of Hindi and Urdu. She also learned Indian dance, starting with Bharata Natyam and Kathakali, before finally settling for Odissi, which she studied with masters such as Protima Gauri Bedi, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and others.
Masako showed how beautifully a foreigner can ingest the spirit of Odissi and give it expression as delicately and convincingly as an Indian born. Her first dance “Nagendraharaya – Salutations to Shiva”, choreographed by Naba Kishor Mishra using traditional Odissi music, expressed power and vigour as well as refinement and grace.
But there was more.
The last dance of this far too short performance, aptly called ‘Frozen Grace,' was once again choreographed by Masako. This dance is based on a Haiku written by Japanese poet Ryotei Fukuda. He describes a butterfly at its life's end, in a freezing cold winter, flying to the sun, pushing itself to reach higher. The Bamboo Orchestra again provided the music, and the audience was transfixed by Masako's delicate movements, the stilling atmosphere, and the final realisation of the butterfly's aspiration. Once again Masako showed how the dance expressions of various cultures can be amalgamated to reach a transcending form, aspiring, as the butterfly, to reach ever higher.
Not restricting herself to pure Odissi, Masako presented a self-choreographed piece called The Dance of the Crane which also had elements of Tai Chi, Chi Gong, and Flamenco. Performed to music of the Bamboo Orchestra, this was an absolute delight. She danced the story of a crane (the national bird of Japan ) who, rescued from a trap by a poor man, transforms herself into a woman to repay his kindness. After helping him out of poverty, she turns back into a crane. In this piece Masako identified her own life story with that of the crane – a Japanese woman coming to India to pursue Indian Classical Dance, finally transforming herself into a new Masako now with both Japanese and Indian elements in her dance.