Masako Ono says Odissi will be her main dance all her life Image Credit: IANS

She decided to learn Odissi as soon as she saw legendary dancer Kelucharan Mohapatra in a video in Tokyo. Masako Ono went to India in 1996 and has not looked back since.

After 14 years, Ono has earned fame not only for her dance but also for her innovative choreography and her lecture-demonstrations on Odissi, one of India's oldest surviving classical dance forms.

Start of a journey

Her journey began when she joined Nrityagram, founded by model-turned-dancer Protima Gauri Bedi in Bengaluru, Karnataka. She moved to the Indian state of Orissa — home to 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 said.

"Odissi has already spread across the world. In the US, Odissi is performed by the Indian community, which is good. They keep up the tradition. But has to go more global."

Ono has been performing in many countries, including India and her home country Japan.

Her choreography — a blend of tantra, yoga and classical Indian dance — has received appreciation wherever she has performed.

She has danced and given lecture-demonstrations on Odissi in India, Japan, the US, Canada, Italy, France, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

"After seeing a video of the performance of Guruji [Kelucharan Mohapatra], I decided to learn Odissi," Ono recalled. " I went to Nrityagram."

Since early childhood, Ono has been passionate about dance. She started at the age of 4 under Masako Yokoi, the only Japanese modern-dance graduate from the Martha Graham Dance School in the US. She was later trained in Tokyo in Western classical ballet, jazz and hip hop.

A challenging task

Living in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, since 2001, she has also learnt yoga and Pilates, has opened a dance school and has taught at least 30 students both dance and yoga.

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.

"The main challenge before the students who are talented and interested in learning dance is that many of them are not able to afford a teacher. Those who have talent should be taught free."

Ono wants to teach them for 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.

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. They can go beyond in exploring the boundaries," she said.