For some, ostensibly, life seems to come wrapped in privileges. But one never knows what struggles are hidden beneath this outside wrapping. This could not have been truer for Kavita Dwibedi (53), a renowned exponent of Odissi dance.
The privilege she was born with was being the daughter of Harekrishna Behera, a legendary guru of Odissi dance. And this is where her initial struggles began. "My father did not want me to become a classical dancer, instead he wanted me to be an IAS officer," says Kavita. She had to show some obvious dancing talent, and hard work and garner some support from her mother to get her father to accept her as one of his pupils. Over the years, her struggles intensified and so did her resolve to get over them.
First and foremost, the moment she chose classical dance to be her life’s sole goal, she was pinned down by the weight of immense expectations that being the daughter of Harekrishna Behera brought on her. Also, her father made it clear that he will not use even an ounce of his influence or his good name to further her dancing career. Says she, “He made it clear that I will have to find my own way in the field of dance.”
Kavita's journey as an Odissi dancer started at the tender age of seven. Undergoing a relentless and unforgiving training routine for years (her father did not even allow her to come to the fore during group practice), she had to work hard to get her father’s acceptance as an Odissi dancer. Making her dance financially viable was another big struggle. As was getting an opportunity to perform on major dance stages.
Kavita knocked down all those challenges, one by one. First, she perfected her art. Then came her first public performance as a soloist in 1988, Russian Centre, New Delhi. Her next milestone was when she got empanelled with Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
In 1990, Kavita had her first performance in a government set up under the ‘guru shishya parampara’ and got herself a government scholarship.
Her next big win was something she had always been dreaming of, to perform at the Konark Dance Festival. She was just 22 years old when she got an opportunity to perform solo at the Konark Festival. Even that came with its own set of struggles. “I was not that well placed financially during those days. I had to sell my gold earrings to buy my costume to perform at the Konark Festival.” Later on, she went on to perform on other big stages such as Khajuraho, Cannes and Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu).
Still, the biggest challenge, to get an approving nod from her father as a classical Odissi dancer, still remained elusive. Finally, a day came when even that dream of hers was fulfilled. It happened when Kavita did Pingala (2009), a dance drama where the protagonist was a prostitute. It was a theme that broke several molds and raised many eyebrows. She herself had some misgivings about this subject but then she did it. The challenge got stiffer when she got to know that her father was among the audience. Says Kavita, “I did my best to emote the complex sensibilities of the character. When I finished, my father was in tears. That was the day he accepted that I have become a dancer. It was the biggest day of my career.”
Kavita stresses that as a dancer, she is true to her art form. “What matters most for me is the quality of the audience and not the quantity. I give my best in every performance no matter whether the stage is big or small. This is something that I learned from my father,” says she.
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That is why even after all these years of performing on the stage, she still gets the jitters before any performance. But once she starts dancing, she forgets everything, the true artist within her comes to the fore and she becomes one with her art form. She describes that moment as the moment between her and God. Over time, the art becomes inseparable from the artist and achieves a sublime spiritual level. “My father used to say, the stage is yours. Give your hundred percent there”, says Kavita.
Kavita throws light on the change in course of dance as a profession with time. She herself believes that one cannot earn enough from dance. So, to sustain, one must study well and get a job besides dance. The competition has increased very much and with competition comes job insecurity. The parents also encourage their children to learn dance only as a hobby. However, there are one or two out of a hundred, who accept all the struggles and challenges and choose dance as a profession.
Kavita runs an organisation named ‘Sanchari’ and has a group under the organisation, also named ‘Sanchari’. She teaches Odissi dance to young children. With the changing time, Kavita has adopted contemporary social themes into her dance dramas such as ‘save girl child’ and ‘global warming'.