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Classical Steps to Glory

Renowned Odissi dancer Dr Anjana Moyee Saikia has wowed audiences across India with her renditions of this classical dance. Her repertoire also includes choreographing dance dramas like Chitrangada, acting in theatres and holding down a full time job at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital

Classical Steps to Glory

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  16 Jan 2023 6:20 AM GMT

After work I find time for my family and my passion that is dancing. For me dancing is not just a something physical. It helps me to relax and release stress. Since dancing totally engrosses my mind and body, it keeps anxiety and depression at bay. For me dancing is a purification of mind body and soul.

Dr Anjana MoyeeSaikia is an acclaimed Oddisi and Xatriyadancer of Assam. She is also a faculty of Community Medicine at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital. She has performed in many national and international events. She is also an actor, who has performed as a leading character in drama productions like Chitralekha, Purush, etc. Dr Saikia was also invited by the President of India in 2019 on the occasion of India's Independence Day as one among the Artluminaries of India. Excerpts from an interview.

Tell us where you were born and about your family

I was born in Dibrugarh. My father who was an engineer with the PWD had a transferable job and we travelled from Dibrugarh to Golaghat, Lumding and Diphu before finally settling down at Guwahati, My mother was a homemaker and I have two siblings – an elder brother and an elder sister. I am married to mime artist Moinul Haque and I have a son who also performs mime.

Tell us something about your educational background

I studied in a government LP School at Diphu where my father was posted. In 1984 we shifted to Guwahati and I completed my schooling from TC School. I took admission in Cotton College with the royal combination of Eco, Stats and Maths in the pre degree level and in 1995 I graduated from Cotton College with Statistics Honours. In Gauhati University I completed MSc and then joined Gauhati Medical College and Hospital in 2004 as a non-medical faculty in the Community Medicine department. There was a gap in my studies at the post graduate level as I was invited by a Bangalore dance group to join them and I took a break for two years before completing my post graduate degree. While holding down my job at GMCH I enrolled for doctorate degree in Gauhati University and completed my PhD in 2017. That is all about my education in a nutshell.

What inspired you to be a dancer?

My mother had a penchant for the arts and culture and my aunt was a dancer. My mother encouraged me and my sister to learn dancing. I performed before an audiences when I was five years old on occasions like Viswakarma puja or Durga Puja which were celebrated at my father's office.

Those were not the days of Facebook and Instagram where at a young age you could find fame by uploading your dance and song videos. When young I remember perusing articles on classical dances and intently observing the photographs of renowned dancers of national and international fame like SonalMansingh and others. We got a TV after shifting to Guwahati and then started watching national dance programmes. However, I could not make out the differences between the Kuchipudi or Bharat Natyam dance forms as our exposure to the classical dances was almost nil in Assam. It was in 1985 that I was admitted to the Mitali Kala Kendra where I was taught Odissi by Garima Hazarika, my first Guru, who is now no more. Ghana Kanta Bora, a Padmashri and recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademiawardee also taught me Satriya at the same dance school.

I was at the formative age of 11 or 12, the best age to imbibe and explore what is taught, and as I learnt the intricacies of the Odissi Nritya my interest deepened. You could say that the flavours and taste of the classical dance seeped into me and enriched my being.

However, I got noticed in the College Weeks in Cotton College. I won the first prizes in dance then and members of the students' union arranged performances in different youth festivals and colleges like the Indian School of Mines where I got prizes and gold medals. These inspired and energized me and there was no looking back from there.

What would you say was your most memorable experience as a dancer?

My performance at the Uday Shankar Fest in Calcutta in 2010 and the subsequent accolades that I received was something I will never forget. Calcutta as we all know is a place steeped in culture. I staged two dances – one was a pure dance, bhangima ( posture and gesture) based and the other was abhinaya (acting and expression) based. At that time the only space that I got to practice was at a Club at Ambari. Every evening after work I would practice for an hour or two after work.

Tell us something about your experiences in other places of India

I have performed in many places of India and the acclaim in most places has been stupendous. What is especially important to me is as an Odissi dancer my shows in Odisha have been very well received. When I first presented the Odissi dance in a show at Bhubaneswar I could feel the audience judging me, wondering whether I could measure up to their expectations, as I was from Assam.

After the show was over Odissi dancer of international repute Sujata Mohapatra approached me and asked me to stay back for a video shoot on the classical dance form. She said that she wanted someone like me to be part of a dance video project. As I had gone with a troupe I had to return after a couple of days but went back after a week and was a part of her shoot. The videos still exist.

In Delhi also where there are world class dancers of all the classical dance forms my presentations garnered accolades and I got a warm response even in the media.

In Bangalore where I performed the Sattriya , which is little known in that metropolis, among the eight classical dances of India, my presentation won accolades.

You have also created dance dramas like Chitrangada and Shyama. What made you do these.

Chitranagada and Shyama are both based on the writings of Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore. Chitrangada is an epic love story. It was in 2012 that I chanced to drop in on a rendition of Tagore's Chitrangada in a theatre in Kolkata. I was drawn by the story and browsed through the internet for more information. At a book fair in Guwahati the same year I picked up two volumes of Tagore's writings.

The narrative is that of a daughter of Chitravahana, the King of Manipur, who was raised as a man and had to learn all the martial arts required of a warrior as the king did not have a son. Arjuna, after the Mahabharata war was over was wandering in his kingdom when he reached the ancient kingdom of Manipur. There he was attracted by the prowess of Chitrangada, who he mistook for a youth as she bore the resemblance of a young lad and was also showing off her skills in hunting and warfare. Chitrangada too was enamoured by Arjun but being brought up as a boy she did not know how she could appeal to Arjun. She prayed to the God of Love Kamdev to give her boon and Kamdev turned her into a beautiful maiden. Arjun was captivated by her beauty and married her but then left her behind and returned to Hastinapur alone. But this is another chapter which is not covered by Tagore in his writing. Tagore has concentrated only on the love angle. I approached Abinash Sharma about the idea of making a dance dram out of the epic poem and he evinced interest in this. My next step was to adapt the poem to a drama scripting Assamese which would have elements of dance as well. The then Commissioner in Guwahati Madhurima Baruah Sen did the translation within a month and by end of 2012 we were all set. Production began in 2013 and we staged three shows of the drama which included five dances at Rabindra Bhawan in 2014.

The show received rave reviews and we staged it in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Manipur and Delhi.

I played the strong character of Chitrangada and had to practice martial arts. The consorts of Chitrangada also had to be trained as warriors and we all worked as a team. Again the character of Chitrangada is divided into Kurupa and Surupa, the male and the female alter ego) aspects of the character, and usually actors do these two roles but I did both by layering clothes and doing a quick change in the green room. These were some of the challenges we faced. It was a powerful presentation with a huge amount of lighting on stage for effect.

I also choreographed Shyama, another romantic poemcomposed by Tagore into a dance drama in 2017-18 and we did a few shows before the Covid 19 pandemic spoilt everything.

Apart from dancing you have also acted in some renowned theatres like Chitralekha, Purush, etc. Tell us how you got into this field?

It was something which was destined. In 2014, I was asked to enact the role of a negative character in Purush by dramatist and director Arun Sharma, a Padma Shri, Sahitya Akademi awardee and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee. Though it had shades of grey, it was the main role and I portrayed it very well. I also acted in Pinjara which is an adaptation of Agatha Christie's Mouse Trap. This was directed by Abinash Sharma. I essayed the roles of different characters in dramas which he directed. At that time he was a producer in the Drama section of the Cultural Affairs department. He had directed Chitrangada and we shared a good rapport.

You also have a dance school, the Darpan Dance Academy? Tell us about this project? I teach Odissi at the Darpan Dance Academy.Odissi is a classical dance which is not taught in many places and I have studied this this dance form in depth and also teach my students the evolution and intricacies in detail. I would also like to teach Sattriya dance but most of my students already know Sattriya when they come to learn Odissi. I also choreograph dance dramas. Recently I choreographed SonitJutika, which tells the history of Sonitpur based on the architectural remains found at the place. It is a very informative play which combines dance and drama. I would like to do more such projects with my students.

You are a lecturer at GMCH. How do you manage both dancing and your job? I need my job and it is also very satisfying. I have to teach the application of statistics to students at the undergraduate and post graduate level. This comes in handy in research projects pertaining the health sector. I also find this kind of research very interesting and interacting with students who have a high level of intelligence is also very stimulating. After work I find time for my family and my passion that is dancing. For me dancing is not just a something physical. It helps me to relax and release stress. Since dancing totally engrosses my mind and body, it keeps anxiety and depression at bay. For me dancing is a purification of mind body and soul. I always find a way to balance my job and my passion. I usually avoid menial chores at home.

Your husband Moinul Haque is a renowned mine artist. How did you meet him and as you both being to different religions did you face any hurdles in your marriage. I met my husband when I was being trained in at Mitali Kala Kendra. He was at that time struggling to establish himself as a mime artist.He had also enrolled at the same place to learn how to emote and express himself through gestures and body language without using voice which is very similar to dancing. He would watch the dancers and learnt the basics from them. Yes, I did face hurdles because of different faiths. I did not feel that I had done anything wrong in marrying him so I ignored the barbs and snide comments. I did not react at all, humbly going about my work and taking care of my family. Slowly I was accepted into the family as I knew would happen.

We have heard that your son, like his father, is also into mime. Have you worked on the same stage with him and your husband?

My son has worked with his father and he has also worked with me but all three of us have not worked together. Recently I reworked Chitrangada. There is a dance in which several males perform on stage. He was part of the dance and performed very well. It was not that I was focusing on him as a separate character. I was also on the same stage but we did not come on together.

What advice would you like to give to the younger generation. Dance is a medium that involves not only physical exercise, but it is an exercise for our mind and our soul. It helps us to unleash our creativity. Negativity in our mind also gets purified. I believe that students should not give materialistic outlook to dance. In Assam, the market of dance is not that big. But I believe the time will come when people who are pursuing dance as a career choice will be able to rich new heights. I would like to tell them to work hard and with dedication. Like I said before, one should not run after rewards and awards. They will shower on you when you give your hundred per cent. I would add one more thing, and that is you should always respect your elders. There are many senior artists, and our Indian culture tells us to respect our elders. In dance, we are told to respect our teachers who are ourour gurus at each and every step. The blessings you get from your gurus and elders will help you. Take the positive side of the exposure you are getting.

What would you like to tell our readers. I would like to wish your readers a very happy new year and very happy Bhogali Bihu. The Sentinel is a very old and reputed newspaper and I am very happy to be connected to this newspaper.

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