Odissi: Dance of Life Video at https://www.facebook.com/Odissi-Dance-Music-with-Nirmal-Jena-870914229588453/?ref=profile
Sharing their Dance of Life with young people in hardship
Nirmal Jena and Chitrita Mukerjee are passionate about creativity, diversity, humanity and sustainability. These four pillars have sustained the two dance artists and educators from the time they met in Delhi, India, almost thirty years ago. After founding the Odissi Dance Company in Sydney, Australia to promote their unique family style of Odissi Indian classical dance and music, they recently established the Arts and Life Education Gurukul Ltd (ALEG), an Australian charity. ALEG’s core program will be Odissi: Dance for Humanity, which will give young people experiencing hardship an opportunity to build their lives and livelihoods through training in creativity, diversity, humanity and sustainability.
After years of performing and teaching, Nirmal says I have done everything in the conventional arts industry, and now I will focus on my artistic practice as a way of life, a living philosophy that can build resilience like no other. Teaching the dance and music to the next generation is an urgent priority for Nirmal and Chitrita. And they want to do this in a Gurukul, a place of deep learning and eco-living, set in nature, and where the guru or the teacher guides and inspires every aspect of the learning process. Under their Odissi: Dance for Humanity initiative, they want to offer scholarships to young people who have experienced difficulties in life and have a passion for the arts. The students will train intensively in the dance and music, and in essential life skills, at the Gurukul. Nirmal and Chitrita hope the training will be conferred as an accredited or honorary university degree. After completing their initial training, the young dancers will tour Australia and the world before returning to their respective communities to set up arts-based social enterprises and tourism hubs. In India, three not-for-profit partners are ready – Nrityashilp Foundation (https://www.facebook.com/nrityashilp/) in Delhi, Calcutta Rescue in Kolkata (https://calcuttarescue.org/) and Dream a Dream in Bengaluru (https://dreamadream.org/).
Nirmal and Chitrita’s Gurukul concept is based on the notion of Vasundhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family in Sanskrit), thus relevant to anyone who shares their passion, philosophy and commitment to the arts. ALEG will operate out of studios in Sydney metro and in Hazelbrook, Blue Mountains. The Gurukul will offer a unique and powerful suite of arts and educational services for learners, practitioners, observers and anyone in the community. They need partners, funding and resources. Nirmal and Chitrita invite collaborators, philanthropists, professionals and anyone interested to join them on this journey. They are excited about their Gurukul project, a valuable gift for the local and global community, at a time when the world really needs hope.
If they can embark on this ambitious project, it will be a first for Australia. Ausdance NSW strongly supports their initiative, claiming If there was ever a time when this was necessary, it is now, when the world is rife with uncertainty and chaos. COVID-19 has forced a reset in an unprecedented way and ‘Odissi: Dance for Humanity’ has much to offer in this period of collective reflection and search for new avenues of creative exploration that redefines creative practice in contemporary, intercultural and international ways.
Gavin Robins, Head of Movement in Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), where Nirmal teaches first year acting students, said in support of Odissi: Dance for Humanity: In a time when diversity and intercultural connections within our communities are increasingly important, the support for this project will have far reaching effects on the performing arts industry and importantly the lives and potential of the young individuals engaged in this rigorous learning.
Nirmal Jena teaching at NIDA Photos: Rudolf Rindler
Guru Surendra Nath Jena expressed his Odissi dance through choreography, music composition and poetry. This is one excerpt in his own handwriting. Nirmal Jena, his son, is translating Guruji’s verse and intent from Odiya into English.