Odissi Allure

Ramli Ibrahim and Geethika Shree are poerty in motion in
their performance of the Mangala Charanam on Hari Hara,
composite god of Vishnu [Hari] and Siva [Hara], here
depicting Vishnu who wears the garland
Ramli Ibrahim, cultural icon, artistic director of the Sutra Dance Theatre and chairman of Sutra Foundation, really needs no introduction.  This award-winning dance virtuoso single-handedly established Odissi an ancient Indian dance, as a widely appreciated art-form and transformed the dance scenario in Malaysia in the last 3 decades.  So when the Johor Department of Culture and Arts organized a special showcase of “Vision of Forever” featuring Ramli Ibrahim in Johor Baru on Sept 14, all the tickets to the free-show were snapped up almost immediately.

For almost two hours, Ramli and the Sutra dancers, also featuring award-winning Guna, and lead female dancer, Geethika Shree, captivated the audience’s imagination and transported them to another realm to feel emotions as varied as love, joy, peace, anger, wonder, sadness and even fear.  In Vision of Forever, Ramli’s choreography brought out macabre and terrifying beauty in powerful images from Shaivite and Tantric traditions that were complemented with award-winning lighting and set design by Sivarajah Natarajan.  

Ramli and Geethika dancing the Mangala Charanam that
depict Siva in a Tandava [vigorous] pose, showing him
holding the skull [Left hand] and Damaru or drum [Right hand]
From the opening strains of the raga, the audience was held spellbound by the melodic tunes of Indian classical music and the rhythm of ankle bells as they enjoyed the grace and beauty of odissi with elaborate body postures, intricate footwork, facial expressions and interesting eye movements.

When Vision of Forever premiered at Kalakshetra, the bastion of Indian classical dance in Chennai, India, in December 2006, it received tremendous reception and the show continued with a tour in Southern India in 2007. 

Sutra later performed this spectacular show in Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai, Coimbatore and Bangalore.  In July 2011, Sutra had a successful season at the Indore Odissi Festival and Baroda, National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai and created history by performing Vision of Forever in the Wall Street Financial District of New York in September 2011.

Ramli [Left] as the celestial being, instructing the acolyte,
Guna, on the principles of Beauty in temple poses and in
the background, Sthai - the temple sculptures come to life!
The Mangala Charanam performed by Ramli and Geethika Shree, started with slow, graceful and poetic movements of the eyes, neck, torso and feet that gradually built up to a crescendo.  

They depicted two celestial dancers who descended from their heavenly home to dance for the gods and mortals.  Ramli and Geethika moved with such grace in synchronicity and symmetry that it was easy to connect with their emotions as they told their story with a series of refined movements of the eyes, feet and hands.

Guna and the Sutra dancers presented a
mesmerising visual in an excerpt of
Dasamahavidya, showing the Visvarupa
[Face of Glory] of the Goddess Absolute
In the performance of Dasamahavidhya the audience was thrilled by Guna, renowned as the first Malaysian male graduate from Kalakshetra and one of the nation’s most evocative performers in Indian classical dance.  Guna performed as the principal dancer with 10 female dancers who depicted the 10 forms of Shakti (the female energy) represented by goddesses that were dramatically introduced by their characteristics.  Each of the Sutra dancers beautifully personified the devis, Kali, Tara, Bhuvaneshvari, Sodasi, Bagalamukhi, Chinnamasta, Mathangi, Bhairavi, Kamala and Dhumavathi, who are believed to be the epitome of creation.

While the intricate group compositions arranged by Ramli in his inimitable style invested Vision of Forever with elegant and stunning visuals, the odissi dancers’ costumes, jewelry and accessories are also a delight to the eyes.  Female dancers were adorned by silver bell ear-rings, bracelets, armlets, necklaces, wide belt and an elaborately ornamented head-piece.  It was interesting how the dancers skillfully moved comfortably and gracefully in the costumes that were draped around the body in the traditional way.

Michelle Chang as Vidyadari, a celestial dancer, flying and
holding a veena, a traditional stringed musical instrument
Among Sutra’s talented dancers are multi-racial dancers of Indian, Malay, Chinese and mixed parentage.  Ten female dancers who performed in Johor Baru with Ramli and Guna included principal dancers Geethika Shree, Nishah Devi, Tan Mei Mei and Michelle Chang. 

At the end of the show, Hjh Asiah Md Ariff, Johor state Chairman of Rural and Regional Development, Arts, Culture and Heritage presented Ramli and the Sutra dancers with souvenirs.  After the dancers took their final bow, members of the audience took the opportunity to meet the dancers and get a photo memento. 

Guna and Geethika strike a pose in a tableau in
the Saberi Pallavi
Many were effusive with their comments and could not stop saying, “Syabas!” to Ramli and the Sutra dancers for bringing world class cultural entertainment to Johor Baru.

Dr S Sivamoorthy said, “A homegrown maestro par excellence – a personality that perfectly embodies the spirit of 1Malaysia,” and praised Ramli for his borderless friendship. 

“A very vibrant performance and excellent lighting: It was almost like the goddess herself had descended in her many forms,” said Suseela Arulananthem. 

A group made up of R. Rajendran, V. Sivadass, Jayashree and S. Shamini, unanimously agreed that it was a remarkable show and their artistic talents deserved a standing ovation. 

An excerpt in Dasamahavidya showing the acolyte
adoring the various manifestations of Shakti
[Creative energy of the goddesses]
Soraya Gilmour declared that with such perfect presentation of dance, music and choreography, it was the best show of the year! 

“Ramli lives up to his reputation with superb choreography, stage direction and flawless performance, not to mention fabulous costumes.  No wonder his fastidious eye for detail has won him international accolades,” said Nooraini Dato’ Mohd Yasin who along with her 3 daughters, enjoyed the show tremendously.

Like them, many in the audience were enraptured by Vision of Forever and confessed that for a while, they forgot that they were in Johor Baru.  They agreed that Ramli is indeed Malaysia’s dance icon and longed for the opportunity to see him perform here again. 

Fans of Ramli Ibrahim buying books and souvenir programmes
produced by Sutra Foundation

For more info about cultural events organised by the Johor Department of Culture and Arts, Tel: 607 – 224 8270, 223 1249 or Fax: 607 – 223 9413.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 20 September 2012

1 comment:

  1. Well done. A real example of multi-cutural integration and success. Keep up the excellent work.

    Rene Chang (Michelle's uncle in London)