Japanese dancer Masako Ono takes Indian dances to the world

Japanese dancer Masako Ono came to India in 1996 to learn Odissi. She decided to learn Odissi as soon as she saw legendary dancer Kelucharan Mohapatra on video in Tokyo. After 14 years, Ono has earned fame not only for her dance but also for her innovative choreography, her lecture and demonstrations on Odissi – one of India’s oldest surviving classical dance forms.

Bhubaneswar, March 5 (Calcutta Tube) Japanese dancer Masako Ono came to India in 1996 to learn Odissi. She decided to learn Odissi as soon as she saw legendary dancer Kelucharan Mohapatra on video in Tokyo. After 14 years, Ono has earned fame not only for her dance but also for her innovative choreography, her lecture and demonstrations on Odissi – one of India’s oldest surviving classical dance forms.

She has danced and given lecture-demonstrations on Odissi in India, Japan, the US, Canada, Italy, France, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. She has performed for former prime ministers of Japan Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe.

Her journey began when she joined Nrityagram, founded by model-turned-dancer Protima Gauri Bedi in Bangalore. She moved to Orissa – home to classical Odissi – and trained under several gurus including Mohapatra.

Today Mohapatra and Bedi are no more, but 38-year-old Ono is carrying their dreams forward.

‘I don’t miss them. They live in my body. Odissi will be my main dance for my whole life. I want to take it to all corners of the world,’ Ono told IANS.

The strict vegan said: ‘Odissi has already expanded across the world. In the US Odissi is performed by the Indian community, which is good. They keep up the tradition. But it should go more global.’

Ono has been performing in many countries including India and her home country Japan, which she visits a few times every year. Her choreography – a blend of tantra, yoga and classical Indian dance – has received appreciation wherever she performs.

Ono has also participated in the contemporary dance project Boi Shakti in 2008. She has innovated and choreographed many fusion performances which have incorporated elements of other dance forms.

‘After seeing one video of the performance of Guruji (Kelucharan Mohapatra), I decided to learn Odissi,’ the dancer recalled. ‘Next moment I was at the embassy of India, asking where to go. They gave me a brochure of Nrityagram; so I went to Nrityagram.’

Since early childhood, Ono has been passionate about dance. She started at the age of four under Masako Yokoi, the only Japanese modern dance graduate from the Martha Graham Dance School in the US. She was later trained in Tokyo western classical ballet, jazz and hip hop.

Living in Bhubaneswar since 2001, the slim dancer, who has also learned yoga and pilates, has opened a dance school here, and has taught at least 30 students both dance and yoga. Her students range from eight to 45 years in age. She has half a dozen students right now, including a Japanese who is learning hip hop.

Asked what she thought of other Odissi dancers, Ono replied: ‘Some are good, but what bothers me is that there are people who have not worked enough before doing it.

‘The main challenge before the students who are talented and have interest to learn dance is that many of them are not able to afford a teacher. I always think what I can do for them. Those who have talent should be taught free.’

Ono wants to teach them free, but she needs financial support. She has recently registered a trust called Mudra Foundation. ‘I will try to do this through this trust,’ she said.

Asked about her personal life, she said: ‘At this time I am far from thinking about marriage, but still I have hope; search for a suitable partner is on.’

Right now, she is dedicated to dance. Ono has attended workshops in Flamenco, contemporary dance, African dance, Chhau and Kalaripayattu.

‘A dancer cannot just be confined to the portrayal of the beauty of the body. He or she can go beyond in exploring the boundaries,’ she said.

(Jatindra Dash can be contacted at jatindra.d@ians.in)

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