Natalia Evgenyevna Belchenko

Leader of the Hindu Dance Company "Santosh" Russia, Yekaterinburg

The Guru Shri Surendranath Jena Dance School in the Urals

Interest for the art of Indian dance appeared in Russia a long time ago. L.F. Minkus appealed to the mysterious charm of Indian temple dancers in his ballet "The Bayaderka" (Bayadere). A meeting with Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, gave Rukmini Devi a girl from a noble family the impetus to create Kalashetra Dance Academy. One could say that the art of Russian ballet influenced the renaissance of Bharatanatyam dance style. To consider this topic closer, one would see that Russian people and the peoples speaking Indo-Iranian languages have common group of languages called Indo-European and also common origins of their traditions and rites, festivals and mythological plots. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, an Indian scientist, affirms in his work "The Arctic Home in the Vedas" that "the cradle of humankind is to be looked for in the Arctic; flora and fauna had also begun there". Comparing mythologies of the Indo-European peoples different authors find these natural phenomena, describing in Vedas, reflected in stories and myths, legends and festivals, etc.

Visiting Indian dance festival "The Rhythms of Joy" which took part in Kiev in 1998, I saw a dance in the style of Guru Surendranath Jena for the first time. Phratibha Jena Singh, Guru′s daughter, presented to spectators a composition named "Amba Mangalacharanam", which was devoted to the incarnations of Mother Goddess. In 1999 I moved to Yekaterinburg and opened my second studio of Indian dance "Santosh", the participants of which would later become an Indian dance group. I got permission from Guru Pratibha Jena Singh to have some practice in her class in the Triveni Kala Sangam Institute in 2000 and July that year I arrived in Deli to take lessons. Up to this day I've been a disciple of Guru Pratibha Jena, who has taught me everything I know and everything I can do in performing Indian classic dance. Guru Pratibha came to Yekaterinburg several times to conduct seminars with the "Santosh" dance group.

Dance is the art understandable without speaking. When taking Indian dance to the Urals - not a common Indian dance but the heritage of Shri Surendranatha Jen, talented Indian choreographer, I hoped it would probably become some unordinary art which could perhaps unite peoples of different sides of the world.

There are only three dance streams in the world which could be classified as "classical" these are classical ballet, classical flamenco and classical Indian dance. Dance culture of our country is based on the principles of Russian ballet, which had been taken from France in the 17th century. Noblemen's manners affected sufficiently peculiarities of the ballet as they were the first to perform it (for instance, "twisting", which meant legs should be twisted from hip to a foot position used in some fencing tactics). So, classical ballet is a completely secular art, which is not the case this with the Indian classical dance.

Indian dance, on the contrary, is the art that appeared in ancient times mostly as a reflection of religious feelings. The dance had its development in temples. A treatise on the dance art "Natyashastra", which is still very popular among those learning Indian dance, was written approximately in the 2nd century A.D. This treatise presents a strict set of rules for preparing dancer's body to perform dance drama, and some requirements to create such drama also. According to doctor K.Vatsyaan's opinion, the main difference between western ballet and Indian classical dance art is as follows. Western dancer has the aim to overcome a space, which is shown by numerous jumps. Indian dancer tries to overcome time, using in one′s technique postures, which are hold for some time motionless. That is why classical dance in India has a sculptural concept. One can see dance heritage of India on the walls of temples in different country areas. Understanding the category of time by the art of dance gave birth to seven classical Indian dance styles: Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Manipuri and Odissi.

Basing his style on the rules of Odissi, Guru Shri Surendranath Jena (1924-2008) was able to create an art form that appeals to professionals as well as touches ordinary viewers to the innermost of their hearts.

As a little boy he lost his father very early and his mother brought him up in the village of Uchapur in the north of Orissa. When the boy was 8, his ears had been pricked and the ceremony of upanayana took place. His mother sent him to the Ashram Asura Matha school. When Surendranath was 13 or 14, he joined a group of public theater, Jatra. The Jatra theater performed songs, dances and drama scenes based on the epic plots mainly. For 10 years, which he spent in the group, Surendranath Jena learned singing, participated in performances and replaced artists. At the age of 30 he became a director well-known in the Northern Orissa.

Once he made up his mind to get blessing of the goddess Sarasvati and decided to go on pilgrimage to the Sarasvati temple in the village of Jhankatesvari, a district of the Cuttak city. On the very first day he seemed to hear the voice of Sarasvati, who was telling him: "For what reason did you come to me? You've already been blessed by me anyway". So Surendranath went away without finishing the Puja. Brought up in traditional Indian way Sri Surendranath Jena was surrounded by myths created by the ancestors and felt that "his essence and his flesh dated back to that cosmic material which laid in the basis of the elements themselves, of all natural objects and everything in this world". So, in all his would-be dance compositions gods, half-gods and heroes coexist together like real characters.

Once during the drama performance at a ras-lila festival Surendranath Jena made an acquaintance with Kelucharan Mahapatra, who had begun reconstruction of Odissi dance. Surendranath Jena joined the new center of Odissi Kala Vikas Kendra in 1962. He completed a 5-year program in 2 years. During his study he often recollected that he had learnt something similar at Asura Matha School. Almost at the same time, he passed a 6-month course of Kathakali under supervision of Bala Krishna Menon. The Kathakali style of Kerala was much more complicated dance drama to compare with Jatra theater.

Surendranath gained more experience as a director and performer. Hari Krishna Behera, teacher of the Nritya Niketan Group, specializing in Odissi research in Delhi, invited Surendranath to assist him in his work with students in 1966-67. Surendranath accepted his offer and moved to Deli. At first, in 1967 after dance festival in Bhubaneswar, Surendranath Jena visited half-destroyed Konark temple and felt a really divine inspiration. He saw the beautiful sculptures and discovered that unknown part of Odissi which he thought was missing.

After his return to Deli the inspired Guru started his own class in the new institute of Triveni Kala Sangam. He worked out his own dance alphabet for the school, based on the sculptures in the Natya Mandap of Konark temple. For the rest of his life he spent developing dance performances one after another, with their total number more than 30.

Alessandra Lopes y Royo gave in her article a very distinct definition of the main features of Sri Surendranath Jena's school: "In Guru Surendranath`s style, the poses themselves are dynamically stretched and energised, deriving a complex movement unit from the manipulation of the initial static pose. He achieves this by reimagining "the missing portion" of the moments frozen in the sculptures of the Konark nata mandapa". "These units can be divided into sub-units involving movements of the upper part of the body and movements of the lower part of the body. This process of segmentation and re-assemblage can be more easily visualised if one imagines a horizontal axis along the circumference of the waist cutting the body into a top and a bottom half, and intersecting with a vertical axis which coincides with the straight spine and divides the body into the left and right parts. This imaginary partitioning of the body provides a three-dimensional geometric sculpture and planar grid for the projection and extention of each sculpture and its movement". In the dance style of Guru Surendranath the basic postures common to all the Odissi styles chouk and tribhanga are better distinguished. To perform a chouk posture, which is visually very similar to demi-pliye in the second position of classical ballet, one should bend the knees almost at right angles, which is illustrated by the very name of chouk meaning "a square". Though such bend of knees at an angle of 90 degrees is not needed in the other Odissi styles. Tribhanga posture is performed by a distinct trunk deviation from the vertical line, which is considered to be an overstatement in the other Odissi styles. However, this very feature gives a viewer the impression of similarity between a dancer and stone apsaras depicted on the temple's walls. Another peculiarity of this dance technique is a wavelike motion which is the result of lifting and dropping the body in the chouk posture when dancing.

The emotional component of the dance of Guru Sri Surendranath (Abhinaya), can present another topic for discussion. From the accepted point of view, the Odissi dance is full of woman's grace, beauty and passion. Nevertheless, in Guru's performances one could see the power of anger, dread, disgust and heroic self-confidence. And human life is not pure beauty, tenderness and joy, but anger, fear and disgust also, that is why all these emotions should be expressed in dance. At the same time Guru Surendranath Jena loved his native Orissa dearly, so he combined in his works all the aspects including charming grace of village women and forbidden tantric techniques. His view was that opposites are called like that only because of people's understanding, still all the names and forms are definite parts of Divine Absolute which are presented to people through the power of Maya. So, dances of the Guru become not only a resurrection of ancient esthetic, but a kind of encyclopedia of Mother Earth as well. Creator of such sophistic spiritual style was awarded by Sangeet Natak Academy in 2006. This is the highest award in the field of the Art and Culture in India.

Russia is a huge multi-national country formed by several regions. All nations in Russia are connected with each other by common politics, economy, pop-culture and by the official language. Certainly all enumerated factors will put their stamps on the further development of Guru Surendranath Jena dance style in Ural.

The Urals Region has always been very important for Russia from strategic and industrial point of view; though scientists, folklorists and art specialists drew their attention to the history and culture of the Urals just a few decades ago. So, geographical structure of the Urals Mountains was formed due to a "collision" of two strata of the Russian and West-Siberian plain. As if Mother Earth first ruined something old and outdated by its exhale and when inhaling made the torn parts clashed and stood motionless until some new and unknown events start developing again.

According to cosmogony of many peoples mountains symbolize a center of the world, the universal axis. In the myths of the Urals native tribes one can often come across plots telling of a World's tree and a World's ocean, a World's column and a Seven-layer mountain. The Urals keep secret of the ancient city of Arkaim. Scientists believe this Arkaim to be a prototype city of ancient aries, who imagined the Universe as a circle inside a square. It is known that the North and Central Urals had been settled mainly by Finno-Ugric tribes (Manci, Khanty, Mari, Udmurts, Ugra, Yugra, etc.) up to the 10th -11th centuries and the South Urals had been occupied by Turkic population (Bashkir and Tatar peoples). In the 15th -16th centuries Russians started active developing of these lands. Seizure of Cherdyn, ancient capital of the Great Perm, Yermak's marches to Siberia, trade expansion of the Stroganov′s dealing with Siberian peoples led step-by-step to acknowledge of the Urals as a part of Russian Empire. This was a great impulse to the industrial development of Russia as well as to formation of absolutely new mining culture on its territory.

The specific feature of this culture was that in Russia, within its agrarian territories for the first time an industrial international community appeared, which had a solid basis of the Russian and local traditions together with the old believers′ foundation. During all its history the Urals land absorbs different nations' cultures creating anew.

Performances of the Urals ensemble of Indian dance "Santosh", so rare kind of Art, are popular in our city and region. Participants had their programs on the stages of Ekaterinburg and Tyumen. Lections-demonstrations of Indian dance and Guru Surendranath Jena′s style were heard by people in universities and libraries. Familiarizing conversation-demonstration for children successfully took place in kindergartens, libraries and schools. There are different dances of India folk, dance-stylizations, dances from movies in repertoire of ensemble, but the guide way is style of Guru Surendranath Jena style. Exactly this dance inspires and attracts those, who come to know, what is Indian dance is, those who stays fascinating with nature grace of Guru Surendranath′ Art.

Guru Surendranath Jehna′s dance style attracts my students6 with its deep emotional and substantive content. By means of Indian dance one can describe not only people's emotions but one's perception of the world and own philosophical reflections. He wrote poems for almost every dance describing all the moves from the emotional point of view which helps a dancer feel the state of the dance. It seems that Guru himself is bringing dancers into the necessary state. When comparing odissi style of Guru-ji with other Indian dance styles seen by the participants, they find in the Guru's dance some natural grace which hypnotises and astonishes, there is also strong emotional content with the whole set of human feelings represented in his performances.

When we started the Guru Jena′s dance style, some students understood the notion of a temple dance. Most of my students believe this art is needed in the Urals to see the beauty of the Odissi dance and to join the world cultural heritage. Mastering Guru Jena's dances one would learn to express own feelings, acquire traditions and find faith. However, some students consider that absence of external luxury together with deep philosophy of the Guru′s dances make this style consonant with the severe character of the Urals residents and have something in common with the ideas of old-believers settled down in the Urals after hard period of reforms.

Recollecting my first years of studying at Guru Pratibha's classes, I do remember searches of equilibrium in respect of horizontal and vertical axes. As the result of numerous long-term trainings I understand it clear - after the balance and quiet state of the body have been achieved one can concentrate on the images expressing in a dance so that emotions are passed to people, sharing this chance to reveal some part of Divine Absolute in them.


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  The Roerich Pact and the Banner of Peace as a Remarkable Phenomenon of the World Culture
Reports and Speeches at the International Social and Scientific Conference.
Delhi Kullu Shimla Kalimpong October 22 November 5 2010


The International Council of Roerich Organizations by name of S.N. Roerich. http://www.roerichs.com/Lng/en