Sam Goraya performed in Auckland last weekend. (Photo credit: Parmeet Sahni)

At the tender age of five, he started learning Odissi dance. After years of rigorous training under the guidance of many maestros, today, Dr Sam Goraya, has mastered the art of this beautiful dance form. Indian Weekender spoke to him during his trip to Auckland last weekend where he charmed the audience with his scintillating performance of the dance recital Purusha and Prakriti.

IWK: What piqued your interest in the dance form?

Sam: My mother Kirpal Kaur Goraya learnt dance and music in 1950 and 60s. Odissi dance form had almost died its natural death after the 17th century after the influence of Mughals and later on by British Raj. In 1958, the great gurus of Odissi came together and formed a group called Jayantika (revival) and through their combined efforts, gradually refined the traditional repertoire and technique. My mother taught my sister Arvinder and me this beautiful Odissi dance form that was in the process of getting revived and refined in those days. I was always fascinated with this art form due to the balanced energies of the Tandava and Lasya aspect and felt connected with it right from the beginning.

In the early 1980s, my mother handed me over to Padmashree Madhavi Mudgal at Gandharv Mahavidalaya—an institute that is regarded for its high standards. Madhavi didi took good care of me and developed me with care as a solo male Odissi dancer, as there were not many emerging male dancers in those days. I acquired a good understanding and a new perspective on Odissi dance through Madhavi’s methodical and structured approach that she acquired through many years of sadhana with guru Kelucharn Mahapatra. Since then, I have never stopped Odissi and this is my biggest passion. I breathe and live this beautiful dance form every day.

IWK: What led you to perform different shows in Melbourne and Auckland?

Sam: I want to use my dancing in a positive manner to help underprivileged children of this world from all walks of life. Last year, my performance Triguna raised approximately $6,000 (AUS) for Kiran Bedi's organisation India Vision Foundation (IVF) that supports children whose parents are in Tihar Jail in New Delhi and teach them a skill make them better citizens of India.

Previously, I used to dance in Melbourne regularly but when I visited my parents and family here in Auckland, I saw a great potential with the huge artistic Indian community that is intelligent and have a great knowledge about dance and music. Most performances that take place in Auckland are of high calibre and hence I decided to perform alongside with other talented artists.

IWK: Under whose guidance have you learnt the dance form?

Sam: Initially, I trained with Kirpal Kaur Goraya and then with Padmashree Madhavi Mudgal in Delhi. In 1992, I migrated to Australia where I danced with Chandrabhanu in Bharatam Dance Company for more than 10 years and continued working with him for 20 years. Currently, I am under the guidance of Monica Singh who continues to temper my technique to fine-tune the balance of male and female energies. I continue to practice navarasa sadhana that I learnt with a renowned master of Koodiyattam Guru Venu G in Kerala. I also spend time at Rudhraksh Foundation in Odisha under the guidance of Guru Bichitrananda Swain and Lingaraj Pradhan.

IWK: How, according to you, is dance a form of self-expression?

Sam: Indian classical dance is not something that one can learn in a year or two. It is a long-term sadhana that takes years to master. One can be well-equipped with the technique of an Indian classical dance by the age of 25 or 30, but the real self-expression only comes later on with age and maturity when you are not thinking about the technique and it becomes second nature to you.

The abhinaya only gets more mature and effective with age when one has experienced many emotions and sentiments in life. In my opinion, a dancer’s ability can only be measured if he or she can bring out rasa in the audience and move them.

IWK: Tell us something about your recent dance recital Purusha and Prakriti

Sam: Purusha and Prakriti is a complex concept to attempt using dance as a medium. I researched the matter carefully and created my own interpretation in an easy-to-understand commentary for the public. I selected six important dances created by various gurus that I believe are the best fit for this performance.

Purush is one’s true self, soul or pure consciousness and Prakriti is Mother Nature, the manifest material world or Maya. Prakriti is considered to be the female creative energy that is subconscious and Purush is the male energy that is consciousness.

This performance is close to my heart, as all the profit generated through this work in Auckland and Melbourne will be used to purchase food for the underprivileged Odissi dancers of Odisha. I am also hoping to bring out one of the renowned dancers from this group to perform in Auckland and Melbourne in 2017.

IWK: How was your experience while performing the show in Auckland?

Sam: Firstly, I would like to thank my sponsors AB International, Urja, The Property Agency, Travelshop and Property Apprentice for their support and generosity. There have been many more behind the scene who have worked tirelessly in organising this performance. I feel everyone in Auckland has embraced Odissi and have been extremely supportive of my contribution to the Indian community.

I have always enjoyed performing in Auckland in front of a talented and musically inclined audience. I feel a great positive energy bouncing back in the theatre whenever I dance in Auckland. The audience has been welcoming, supportive and encouraging that makes me want to perform here more often and present Odissi in the most relaxed manner. I shall be back here again with some new concept next year.

IWK: How do you think can young classical dancers be encouraged and given a platform to showcase their talent?

Sam: In my opinion, an Indian classical dancer should go through a disciplined training for many years where he or she should perform in group choreographies first, to gain confidence and performance qualities. This not only gives one the exposure but also teaches about the sense of space, projections and how to adjust on the stage at the time of disaster and still stay professional.

After many years of group work, a dancer may be ready to be presented as a solo artist. I feel many young dancers can benefit greatly from navarasa sadhana to evoke sentiments and emotions in the audience. I delivered workshops in Odisha and Melbourne and I am willing to help young dancers if anyone wants to learn this important aspect of dancing that has so much richness in itself.

IWK: The dance form is often considered to be dominated by women, but more and more budding and brilliant male Odissi dancers are breaking the myth. What are your thoughts on it?

Sam: It is my belief that in post-colonial India, the role of a male in a socio-economic sense was to go and earn income to support their family and female members to stay back and look after the family and raise children. This was one of the reasons that we saw many female dancers emerged in four or five decades after independence. However, things have changed since then and male and female roles are shifting in the right direction and equality is becoming paramount. This has increased the number of male dancers coming forward while female dancers are still holding their position quite strongly.

IWK: Any other shows in the pipeline?

Sam: My next performance is in Melbourne on April 23 at The Coopers Malthouse Theatre. After that, I would need at least one year to create a new concept and learn a few new dances to present to Auckland and Melbourne along with a talented artist from Odisha. 

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