The Best of Both Worlds

Malaysian dancer Ramli Ibrahim contemporises classical dances without bending the rules

Usually, it's difficult for a classical dancer to make a quantum jump to contemporary choreography," says Malaysian dancer Ramli Ibrahim. This, however, has come easy to him. Reason: Ibrahim has as firm a footing in classical dance forms, such as Odissi and Bharatanatyam, as in ballet and other western dances. "The advantage of knowing modern dance forms is that it liberates your mind," says Ibrahim.

While choreographing, the dancer remains rooted to tradition. But the influence of western styles decides the utilisation of space, arrangement of dancers and presentation. This, over the years, has become a hallmark of his dance compositions. This week, dance aficionados of Mumbai would get the chance to discover what makes his work stand out when Vision of Forever, by Ibrahim and his group Sutra Dance Theatre, is staged at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA). The show is hosted by NCPA in collaboration with VIDYA on Thursday to raise funds for the education and empowerment of underprivileged children.

Though Ibrahim is trained in different dance styles, he remains one of the prominent dancers responsible for giving Odissi dance an international platform. The artiste attributes his strong association with Odissi to guru, the late Deba Prasad Das. Unlike the late guru Kelu Charan Mohapatra, who propagated a dance style rooted in the Krishna parampara, Das was influenced by the Shaivite and Tantric traditions. "We emphasise more on power and energy — this is something Vision of Forever captures," he says.

Ibrahim's journey as a dancer has been dotted with unexpected turns. A cadet at the Royal Military College, Malaysia, Ibrahim won a scholarship in 1970 to study mechanical engineering at University of Western Australia. While there, he made a trip to Puri, Orissa to learn Odissi dance. Though he kept going back Orissa, he underwent an undiluted training in dance for two years at the Australian Ballet School, Melbourne, soon after his engineering degree. After a 14-year-long stay in Australia and a stint with the Sydney Dance Theatre, he returned to Malaysia and formed Sutra Foundation in 1983.

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