Sharon Lowen has bridged cultures, performing on every continent as well as for television and film in several countries. She carries the tradition forward with over new 25 choreographies. A visiting professor, scholar, and presenter of seminars, exhibitions and other arties, Sharon came to India with a Fulbright and later American Institute of India Studies Fellowships for Manipuri, Odissi and Chhau. She received her training in Odissi from Padma Vibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra, the undisputed master and architect of the contemporary Odissi repertoire.
I have always believed that seeing dance in its real habitat, the temple, is a far more uplifting experience than any concert platform. The energy of the temple situation unfolds a dimension that is a manifestation of the atman's desire to become one with the paramatman. Each step taken is a step in that direction. It is not often however that one has the good fortune of having that experience. At least not of performers of a certain caliber. When the Odissi danseuse Sanjukta Panigrahi offered to dance for a certain period in the year in the Jagannath Temple in Puri, the temple authorities turned it down in no uncertain terms. What a pity. I can only imaging what an experience that would have been, if the dance of an aging mahari in the temple is any indication.
On the other hand, to Sanjukta's guru, Kelucharan Mohapatra goes the credit of reconstructing what is known as Odissi today from the ancient temple sculptures. He is to Odissi, what Birju Maharaj is to Kathak. Far apart in style and geographic locations, yet bound by the amazing creativity and completeness of their art. It seems only the other day that we saw both the maestros hugging each other with delightful warmth. Few eyes remained dry. It was indeed a special moment that will be treasured in the mind's eye for a long time.
Kelubabu has been guru to an entire generation of performers of today and Sharon too has drunk from the fount of knowledge and experience. Both Sharon and her guru-behn Sanjukta share more than a guru. They share a grit and ability to survive without losing the inherent lasya and continuing to rejoice and celebrate life against all odds. Is it a precious lesson that they may have taken out of their guru's book? Kelubabu's quest has been fraught with many mountains he has had to climb.
Sharon brings to this text the love of a practitioner, the depth of an academician and the objective perspective of a transnational American, who has spent half her life in India. And when one sees instances like this, one's belief in reincarnation or previous connection becomes even more firm! What few people know is that she is also an accomplished photographer. For stylistic continuity we have been unable to use her gorgeous photographs on dance, but someday soon we will!
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