Odissi is an Indian classical dance form originated in the state of Odisha. Like most Indian dance styles, Odissi is characterised by percussive footwork, stylised facial expressions and codified hand gestures. This sophisticate dance vocabulary has abstract and dramatic components, in which movements, gestures and expressions are used to interpret the music and convey stories, characters and emotions related to Hindu mythology.

Odissi is particularly known for its distinctive torso movements and refined lyricism. Although described as the most graceful and gentle among all Indian classical dances, Odissi conceals, behind its elusive resilience and playful gaze, an incredible physical strength, inner control and sense of balance. Sculptural and contained in its outer forms, Odissi reveals its fluidity and energy in movement.

Achieving classical status only 60 years ago, Odissi dance is rooted in the tradition of sacred dance rituals performed in the past by temple dancers, known as maharis. Its movement vocabulary is also strongly inspired by local ancient temple sculptures. However, Odissi, as performed nowadays, is a relatively modern form, which equally draws on folk performing, martial and visual arts, such as the acrobatic dance of the gotipua, the martial art form chhau, and the patachitra paintings tradition, as well as on western theatre aesthetics. Its refined vocabulary is largely the result of indigenous values and practices combined with the artistic genius and modern sensibility of a few extraordinary choreographers, in particular of guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, poet of fine gestures and rare insight.

Although Odissi has conquered a clear aesthetic, mainly defined by the distinctive quality of its movement vocabulary, the enormous potential of its traditional technique is still open to an infinite number of further explorations. This inner potential of the form and its undeniable outer beauty make this dance style alive, modern, transcultural and truly global.

Odissi Gallery (photos by Simon Richardson)