Odissi is a classical dance form from the state of Orissa in India. It is one of the oldest surviving forms of dance, with evidence dating back to 2200 BC to be found in the caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri in Orissa.
Odissi is characterised by its curvaceous movements, sculpturesque poses full of languid grace and an imposing demeanour at the same time. Odissi is characterized by fluidity of the upper torso and gracefulness in gestures and wristwork, juxtaposed with firm footwork. All classical Indian dance forms include both pure rhythmic dances and acting or story dances.
Like other classical arts of India, this ancient dance style had suffered a decline as temples and artists lost the patronage of feudal rulers and princely states, and by the 1930s and 40s, there were very few surviving practitioners of the art.
The current form of Odissi is the product of a 20th century revival. Dedicated scholars and dance enthusiasts carefully researched manuscripts and studied the sculpture, painting and poetry of the region. They also met and observed the performances of the few existing performers, in order to revive and restructure Odissi as a unique classical dance style adapted to the requirements of formal stage presentation. Over the years Odissi has become one of the most popular Indian classical dance styles.
Odissi has two major facets: Nritta or non-representational dance, in which ornamental patterns are created using body movements in space and time; and Abhinaya, or stylized mime in which symbolic hand gestures and facial expressions are used to enact stories on mythical and mspiritual themes.
The technique of Odissi includes repeated use of the tribhangi, or thrice deflected posture, in which the body is bent in three places, approximating the shape of a helix. This posture and the characteristic shifting of the torso from side to side, make Odissi a difficult style to execute. When mastered, it is the epitome of fluid grace and has a distinctively lyrical quality that is very appealing.