Odissi Research Seminars: Abstracts and Bios



Aastha Gandhi


An ‘alternative’ feminine: Dancing Odissi through Guru Surendranath Jena’s compositions


My talk will focus on the approach of portraying the “feminine” in Odissi especially in Guru Surendra Nath Jena’ s compositions and the Odissi body as visualized and conceived by him. After laying down the basic tenets of his style, I will then elaborate on the process of creation and dancing through few of his compositions including Chhaya Jhatak and Chandrika Sundari. I observe and draw an analysis of the Odissi body through decades of training in this particular Odissi style under his daughter and prime disciple, Guru Pratibha Jena Singh. 

I will analyse the construction of the dances through his specific process of visualizing iconography, text, and technique he employed to create, what I identify as an ‘alternative’ feminine. Anurima Banerji’s (2019) understanding of the ‘distributed body’ will be of particular interest to examine Jena’s conception of the Odissi body. To conclude, I will contextualize Guru Jena’s departure from the revived ‘traditional’ Odissi locating his feminine in the larger history and repertoire of Odissi dance.


Paromita Kar


Navigating Research into the History and Aesthetics of the Guru Debaprasad Das Style

 of Odissi


This presentation shares Paromita Kar’s personal research journey into the history of the

Guru Debaprasad Das lineage of Odishi dance, undertaken for her dissertation towards her PhD in Dance Studies between the years 2009-2013. Paromita’s research journey into this style has been multi-sited, based in Odisha and New Delhi in India, as well as in North

America, and this presentation looks into narratives, methodological approaches, personal and archival research journeys taken during this process as well as her encounters with numerous first generation disciples of this style of Odishi dance in Odisha, New Delhi as well as North America.


Sitara Thobani


Making Space: Dancing Odissi in Global Contexts 


As Odissi dancers, our practice begins and ends with the bhumi pranam. For a moment, this salutation trains our focus on the ground upon which we dance, establishing a relationship between our art, our bodies, and the spaces we inhabit. And yet as dancers of a form so intimately tied to specificities of locale - Puri, Orissa, India - but nevertheless practiced in contexts around the world, the question emerges as to both the material and the ideal spaces that we mark and to which we (attempt to) relate. Space, of course, is not simply the setting in which we dance, be it the basement, studio or stage. It is not free of political significance. Space is a context produced by and productive of relations of power, tied as it is to formations of race and nation. I begin by interrogating the relationship that dancers, raised and trained in globalized contexts in India and the diaspora, hold to the spaces in which they perform and which they necessarily bring together. What is the transformative potential, and what are the underlying limitations, of our relationship to space given the various histories and discourses that inform our dance practice? In what ways do our embodied performances and discursive narratives transgress the physicality of spatial boundaries, and in what ways do they enhance these boundaries to give particular conceptualizations of space more concrete form? I build on my earlier research and experiences as an Odissi dancer trained in North America to address these questions, questions that are all the more urgent given the current climate of nationalist resurgence and racial inequity in the multiple contexts in which we live and dance.  


Sabina Sweta Sen-Podstawska 

A Sensory-Somatic Paradigm from Odissi Dance and Beyond

Drawing from my research on sensory-somatic awareness and experience in Odissi dance, I will share about this sensory-somatic paradigm and discuss its application, particularly in generating embodied sensory knowledge, meaning, and feeling in learning and dancing Odissi’s nṛtta items. I see the nṛtta items as fertile ground for thoughts and feelings that become an enactive phenomenon as the dancer generates meaning through the act of psychophysical sensing along with dancing. I will also try to partly speak about how I incorporate this sensory-somatic approach to Odissi dance in my ongoing collaboration with Cree theatre director and cultural leader Floyd Favel from Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada, in developing a contemporary Indigenous theatre methodology, thus extending the application of this sensory-somatic paradigm from Odissi dance into other movement based performances.

Sriradha Paul


The concept of ‘choreography’ in Odissi dance has evolved with time since it got its classical status in the 1950s. In the field of Odissi, the choreography of duet or group compositions often indicates the conscious attention given towards the usage of space or the relationship between multiple dancers in the performance precinct. But it fails to identify ‘choreography’ as an inventive artwork where the choreographer’s thought process and intention are executed through the conscious choices of movements. On this account, this work will explore a contemporary Odissi choreography in progress headed by a Belgium-based choreographer with four skilled individual Odissi bodies belonging to four distinct styles of practice. Based on embodied experience and interviews, the choreographer seems to find the connection between the disciplined body and the pedestrian body using Odissi idioms. How a little shift in the alignment of the spine acts as the boundary/ agent between the disciplined and pedestrian body. How the choreographer seeks to establish this particular Odissi choreography based solely on the strength of the movements grounded in Odissi techniques. The outcome of the work may lead to questions about how these dancers would continue to innovate but would do so in the guise of tradition. How can we understand the persistence in the form, even though change, invention, and renewal are evident in its history? How this choreography can create dialogues between the ideas of tradition and innovation, opening new possibilities for dancers, choreographers and the Odissi audience to discuss the limitations of the problems involving authenticity?


Keywords: Odissi, Pedestrian, Transitions, Authenticity and Contemporary



Aastha Gandhi holds a Ph.D. in theatre and performance studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and was a Doctoral Fellow at the Temporal Communities Cluster of Excellence program, Freie University, Berlin. Her area of research engages with the circus, networks, laws, and discourses of the performing body. Aastha’s degree in law adds to her research which investigates negotiations of citizenship between state and judiciary, and places the circus at the centre of the debate of child labour and animal rights. She currently serves as the Elected Student Member on the Executive Committee of International Federation for Theatre Research, a Member on Academic and Creative Committee for Circus and Its Others, and is an editor for the Routledge Historical Resources project on Circus and Sideshow in the Long Nineteenth Century (2024).

Dr. Gandhi is an adjunct faculty at Ambedkar University, Delhi, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in performance studies. She also serves as a visiting lecturer at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts where her teaching covers performances and the laws and policies related with art and cultural practices in India. She has been a Teaching Fellow at Jawaharlal Nehru University (Department of Theatre and Performance Studies) and Ashoka University (Department of Sociology and Anthropology). 

A performing artist, Aastha has been practicing Odissi dance for over two decades and her choreographic work, performances, and master classes have been hosted in New York, Angérs, Singapore, Belgrade, Hong Kong, Brisbane, Osaka, and Bangkok. She has published a number of peer-reviewed essays on Odissi dance in international journals. Her practice and proficiency in dance has cultivated her understanding towards the performative and phenomenological bodies and the reading of it. These extend into a methodological perspective for her work on circus and other performers and performance genres. 

She has performed and taken master classes in Hong Kong (2006), Brisbane (2008), Osaka (2008), Angers (2014), Singapore (2015), Bangkok (2017), Belgrade (2018), and New York (2019).  In recognition of her contribution to Odissi dance Aastha was bestowed with Pratibha Sanskritik Samman for the year 2014. Her own choreographic works include But on the Box (2007), Between the Lines (2013), We…Women. (2015) and We Women//: Trigger Warning (2017), In the Womb of Time (2020), Ruko/Ruko mat (2023). She is currently working on a dance explorations project on The Other- body of the Migrant implemented by the India Foundation for the Arts.

Aastha has presented her research work at various international conferences include IFTR World Conferences (Reykjavík, Galway, Shanghai, Belgrade, Stockholm, Hyderabad); PSI (Hamburg); Circus Histories and Theories Conference (Johannesburg); Circus and its Others Conference (Davis, Montreal), and World Dance Alliance Conference (Singapore, France, Australia, Hong Kong). 


Anurima Banerji is Associate Professor in the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance. She is the author of Dancing Odissi: Paratopic Performances of Gender and State (Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press, 2019), which was awarded the 2020 de la Torre Bueno Prize awarded by the Dance Studies Association. In 2013, her essay “Dance and the Distributed Body,” published in About Performance, received the Gertrude Lippincott Award from the Society of Dance History Scholars. With Dr. Violaine Roussel, she co-edited How to Do Politics with Art (Routledge, 2017). Currently, she is working on a new book project, The Impossibility of Indian Classical Dance, as well as co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Indian Dance with Dr. Prarthana Purkayastha and The Oxford Handbook of Dance Praxis with Dr. Royona Mitra and Dr. Jasmine Johnson. With Dr. Mitra she co-edited a special issue of the journal Conversations Across the Field of Dance Studies on “Decolonizing Dance Discourses”. Her writings appear in the journals Contemporary Theatre Review, Economic and Political Weekly, South Asian History and Culture, and Women and Performance, and edited volumes like Planes of Composition: Dance, Theory, and the Global; Moving Space: Women in Dance; the Oxford Handbook of Dance Reenactment; and Performance Cultures as Epistemic Cultures. Banerji was also part of a team of artists and scholars who contributed to the exhibition A Slightly Curving Place, curated by Nida Ghouse and presented by Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin, Germany, and the Alserkal Arts Foundation in Dubai, UAE. Banerji has received fellowships from the American Association of University Women, the Hellman Foundation, the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study, and the International Research Center at Freie Universität to support her scholarly work. Recently she was a Fellow at the Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University. She trained in Odissi dance and is also a poet.


Bijayini Satpathy is considered one of the foremost masters of Odissi in the world, Bijayini Satpathy has spent the last three years exploring her own choreographic path. She was the Artist-in-Residence with the Metropolitan Museum for the 2021-22 season. In 2021, she premiered her first self choreographed work “Abhipsaa - A Seeking” commissioned by Duke Performances and Baryshnikov Arts Center with additional support by NEFA's National Dance Project followed by a US Tour. She was also profiled in the virtual Studio 5 2021 program by City Center. In 2020, she was the NY Dance and Performance Bessie Award Honoree and she was named the Best Solo Dancer in 2019 by Dance Magazine. She has been hailed by New Yorker Magazine for her “exquisite grace and technique”. Satpathy’s passion for Odissi was instilled at age 7 with teachers at Orissa Dance Academy, in her birth place, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India. She joined Nrityagram in 1993 after being selected in an audition by the late founder, Protima Gauri, and became the solo debutant in 1997. She studied and perfected Odissi with Nrityagram as a performer, teacher, research scholar and administrator until 2018.


Frédérique Apffel-Marglin is Emerita Professor of anthropology at Smith College and have also taught at Harvard University, Wellesley College, and Wesleyan University. She was a student of Indian classical dance (Orissi style) and did groundbreaking field research among the maharis (temple dancers) of Jagannath Temple in Odisha, India in the mid-1970s. She published the first scholarly book on this subject: The Wives of the God-King: The Rituals of the Devadasis of Puri in 1985. Her later field research was among agricultural communities in coastal Odisha. In 1994, she began collaborative work with nongovernmental organizations in Peru and Bolivia. In 2009, Apffel-Marglin founded the nonprofit organization Sachamama Center for Biocultural Regeneration, dedicated to the regeneration of both the local forest and of indigenous agriculture and culture in the Peruvian High Amazon. Apffel-Marglin was a research adviser at the World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) in Helsinki, an affiliate of the United Nations University, from 1985 to 1991.  Apffel-Marglin is the author of ten books, the editor or co-editor of an additional eight books, and the author of more than 70 articles and book chapters. Her interests cover ritual, gender, political ecology, shamanism, critiques of development, and science studies; her areas of research specialization are South Asia and the Amazonian Andes.

Kakali Paramguru, Odissi dancer with master’s degree in English literature, graduated as a doctor of philosophy in dance from Temple University, Philadelphia in Spring 2023. Using literary intertextual theory, dramaturgical analysis, and oral history methodologies, her dissertation Martha Graham and India analyses the relationship between American modern dancer Martha Graham, the unacknowledged presence of Indian aesthetics in her work from the 1920s through 1958, and the influence of Graham on younger Indian dancers creating Indian modern dance between 1964 into the 2000s. She argues that the relationship between Martha Graham and India was not only reciprocal, but strengthened Indo-American relations through several stages of kinaesthetic and philosophical cross-cultural exchange during the twentieth century. Her research interest centers on interpretation of intertextual aesthetics, comparative literature study, problems of identity politics, orientalism, and comparative modernism. 

Kaustavi Sarkar, Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, is an Odissi (eastern Indian traditional art form) soloist, scholar, and educator. Dedicated to pedagogical excellence, she serves as the Director of the Arts and Architecture Honors Program at her institution. A two-time NEA awardee, Sarkar dedicates her creative and scholarly practice to feminist and queer research and pedagogy. She is the founder and manager of “South Asian Dance Intersections”, a journal dedicated to South Asian dance studies. Through her “Dance and Community Research Institute”, she employs entrepreneurial measures to build community across practitioners and scholars. Her choreography and scholarship has been featured in Nritya-Darpan, Erasing Borders, American College Dance Association Conference, Dance Studies Association, World Dance Alliance, and Odissi International. Her research foci are Practice-as-Research, religious studies, digital humanities, choreographic research, Indic philosophy, and queer theory. Her monograph Dance, Technology, Social Justice with McFarland Publishers presents a critical theoretical take on dance technique as a technology of social justice. Her performance and practice centering Odissi feature in her upcoming book project Shaping S-Curves under review by University of North Carolina Press. She serves on the board of American College Dance Association and Odissi Alliance of North America. 

Monali NandyMazumdar holds a doctorate in Microbiology from the Ohio State University and is continuing her career as a research scientist in the healthcare sector in New York. She has been learning Odissi, the eastern Indian classical dance form, under Dr. Kaustavi Sarkar since the past several years. A keen interest in the art form coupled with intense dedication made her develop a strong love for the Odissi movement. She has participated in numerous dance festivals in the USA as a soloist as well as in ensemble choreographies at the UNCC faculty dance concerts in 2018 and 2023. During the pandemic, she continued to imbibe a holistic view of the arts through her desire to learn various theoretical aspects of Indian classical dance. Having had the opportunity to undertake professional development courses through her teacher’s academic pursuits, she wishes to supplement her practice by publishing her dance research in academic outlets. She is keen on taking her artistic journey further by collaborating with other genres like music and painting which will help explore her choreographic drive while developing new avenues to engage more patrons making odissi accessible to the diasporic community at large.  She has developed online practice groups as a part of her interest to include the community of odissi practitioners in daily sadhana and currently mentoring new students in this form.

Paromita Kar is a dance artist currently based in Hamilton and Toronto, Canada. She moved to Canada as an adult, having grown up in India and the United States, and having encountered through training the different aesthetic lineages of classical Indian Odissi dance through her multiple childhood relocations, and remaining a student and practitioner of the Guru Debaprasad Das lineage of this dance form throughout.


Sabina Sweta Sen-Podstawska is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Culture Studies under the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Silesia in Poland. She holds a Ph.D. in Drama from the University of Exeter, an MA in South Asian Dance Studies from the University of Roehampton in London and a BA-MA in English Literature and Culture from the University of Silesia in Katowice. Her publications include research in sensory-somatic awareness and experience, bodymind relations in performance, Indigenous dance and theatre in Canada, and Indian classical dance Odissi. Her research interests also embrace somaesthetics, emotions, psychosomatic experience and enactivism in performance, multiculturalism, transculturalism, multiethnicity, minority and diasporic cultural expressions. As a dancer and performer, she continues her embodied explorations through Odissi dance, crisscrossing disciplines and mediums.


Sinjini Chatterjee is a fourth year Phd student in the Critical Dance Studies Program at the Department of Dance at UCR. Her research traces the interdependence between Odissi dance and other folk, tribal, and ritualist performance practices of Odisha. She studies how recent choreographic ventures in Odissi might trouble the understanding of ‘classical dance’. Sinjini has trained for 15 years in Odissi dance under the able guidance of Smt. Aloka Kanungo, and has performed widely in India and the United Kingdom. At UCR she has received the Dean’s Fellowship, multiple Gluck Program of the Arts Award, the Dissertation of the Year Fellowship, and the Department of Dance Graduate Fellowship.


Sitara Thobani is Associate Professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on the critical intersections between postcolonial and diasporic South Asian visual and material cultures, and global formations of race, religion, gender and nation. Sitara’s first book, Indian Classical Dance and the Making of Postcolonial National Identities: Dancing on Empire’s Stage (Routledge 2017), examines how diasporic artistic practices serve as a critical site for the mutual constitution of deeply entangled Indian, diasporic and British national identities. She builds on this study in her current research, which explores the relationship between distinct nationalist projects in the transnational context. Her research has been published in Ethnic and Racial Studies, The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, and South Asian Diaspora. Sitara holds a PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Oxford, an MA in Sociology and Equity Studies from OISE University of Toronto, and a BA in Anthropology and Asian Studies from the University of British Columbia. 


Sriradha Paul is an India based performer specialised in Odissi dance for more than two decades, independent researcher, dance educator and curator. She has extensively performed in India and abroad (US, UK, Sri Lanka, China, Sri Lanka, China, Hungary, Bhutan and South Korea) in solo and group category.She hold a master degree in dance anthropology as an Erasmusmundus scholar in the choreomundus programme and  in Geography. She is the disciple of Guru Bichitrananda Swain @ Rudrakshya Foundation and started her Odissi journey under Guru Poushali Mukherjee at the age of five in Kolkata. She has worked with the inmates at Cherlapally jail, Hyderabad and worked closely with the survivors of human trafficking under US Consulate, Kolkata.Her recent interests are in the Indian temple sculptures and the journey from freezing bodies to moving. she is a recipient of Indo-Pacific grant from US Consulate and headed the project and worked with two Indonesian artists. She curated an exhibition in London and performed at Richmix and Nehru centre in London. Currently she is the logistics expert of Choreodance Film Festival funded by ESAA.  She worked as an assistant rehearsal director of an off broadway show in New York organised by Surati. Her upcoming work is Pallavi - a contemporary Odissi production commissioned by maghenta and led by Sooraj Subramanium  as a choreographer.