Odissi as a dance form has travelled and spread all across the globe over the years. While the biggest share of credit of propagating the dance to international level goes to Guru Sri Kelu Charan Mahapatro, his disciples have taken forward his regime providing room and education to dancers from different states and countries.
Maria Laura Valdez Ussegilo who is from Peru and is the disciple of Sujata Mohapatro is one of those souls from distant land who have been attracted towards the dance form and are now learning and performing it widely.
I met Maria at an International Dance Festival in Amravati and following is an account of an in-depth talk with her:
When did you first learn about India?
I knew India since I was a kid. My parents were deep devotees of Sai Baba in Peru. After finishing my studies at the age of 19, I shifted to India and came to Puttaparthi. I still live in the town with my husband.
What is it that you like about India?
There is a lot of variety and culture in India. I am culturally colonized! Since the Spanish invasion, very few people in Peru speak or follow the original language and culture of Peru.
Why did you choose to specialize in dance?
I was trained in Martial Arts and Western Classical Music before coming to India. I had this love for art since the beginning. My knowledge about music and fitness from martial arts together led and fuelled me towards dance.
Did you learn about Odissi after coming to India?
Yes, I first saw few videos of all Indian dance forms and among those Odissi could completely mesmerize me. It is such an expressive and spiritual dance that one is bound to get arrested in its awe.
Tell us about your training in Odissi.
I am being trained by Guru Sujata Mohapatro. And my training until now has been really hard and fruitful. Sujata Ma’am is a very disciplined woman. She is very strict about the entire process. Without her guidance I would have been quite loss, I think. Today I am soulfully connected with the dance and consider it to be one of the paths of worship.
Talking about worship, what is it that you believe in? A symbol, an idol or just energy? This is a viable question as all Indian dance forms speak of myths and Gods.
I will answer energy or spirituality as I have been saying. I have been part of both idol worship and have learnt spirituality deep inside me. I think both are necessary for a person. The rituals make you disciplined and the energy gives you life.
How is the field, this dance? I mean too many women to deal with!
Well, you are right; it does get difficult when there are many women. But overall I have had a nice time with the dancers. At times the Indian disciples tend to dislike me, but I don’t mind that. There is competition everywhere. And for me, dance is a way of living and so I don’t bother much about these things.
Coming back to where you came from. The word ‘Peru’ brings the entire Inca Civilization and archaeological sites to our mind. Did you ever consider to work in archaeology instead of dance?
Unfortunately, there was not much scope of research when I was young. Right now research is soaring. But I have now my own house in the Ashram and dance is my life. Peru is once again history.