Born on 26 November 1955 at Cuttack in Odisha, Aloka or rather Alok Kanungo was trained in Odissi dance under Guru Raghunath Dutta initially, later she received intensive training in the art form under the legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.
Calcutta now called Kolkata is where she chose to settle. However, she has not forgotten her calling to be an all-round dancer, performing, teaching, researching, writing, giving talks, lecture demonstrations and doing everything that is connected with her first love Odissi dance of the Guru Kelucharan style. She is a quiet worker, who has experimented with forms such as Bandha Nritya and has made quite a name for herself, while at the same time in spite of whatever innovations she has made, the stamp of her guru is remarkably visible in her dance.
As early as 1981 I saw her in the role of Radha in Jaydeva’s Geet Govinda directed by her guru. She was a stunning Radha besides her beloved Krishna enacted by Sutapa Talukdar. This was at Rabindra Bharati University. Its beauty is etched in my mind forever. She inspired me to love the Odissi dance style.
Armed with her well-trained repertory members she has scaled untold heights.
In the annual Programmes of her school Shinjan Nrityalaya, she always surprises the audience with her new productions. In 2020, I had the opportunity to enjoy two of her new and spectacular productions, to the music composition of Sangeeta Panda. Her dance and Sangeeta’s music crystallized into a thing of beauty.
When I asked her what her memorable choreographic works were she said, among Pallavis Tara Pallavi, combined with the rhythm composition of Dhaneswar Swain; Basant Pallavi; Vande Mataram; Ganga and Dasamahavidya and Avataras are but a few of them.
Do you churn out excellent performers only? I asked.
Her answer was:
The noteworthy fact about my training is that in my school Shinjan Nrityalaya, I see to it that my disciples not only acquire perfection and become good performers, but also I take care to shape them as patient teachers, intelligent choreographers and successful research scholars.
Sriparna Bose, Udita Pal Chowdhury and Sarbani Sen are among my promising and talented disciples, who have been trained to be teachers besides being performers.
They are good teachers, besides. Aloka also presented another gifted choreographer and her work Baishali Kolay Bhuniya.
In my informal conversation with her, she named some of the members of her repertory group. Shaonli Boral Nandi, Jayeeta Saha, Manjari Bagchi Boral, Swaralipi Roy, Suvra Maity, Ashmita Mohanty and Urjashee Basak are her pride.
She also seems to have an unending number of pupils who receive National scholarships-both junior and senior scholarship- from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
She brimmed with pride when she said that her student Paulami Chakraborty is the recipient of the junior fellowship.
Shinjini Nrityalaya, I gathered, awards a talented, dedicated and hard-working dance aspirant with the Kalangan Award of Rs. 5000.
What has been your exposure globally?
She has travelled far and wide in her capacity as a dancer as well as a guru with her troupe. I had the opportunity of seeing her dance at the International Odissi Festival under the banner of her guru in the early years of the 21st century. There’s not a festival in India she has not graced with her performances along with her troupe. More recently she performed in Ranjana Gauhar’s prestigious festival under the banner of “Sare Jahan Se Accha”; Modhera Festival in Gujerat; Rasotsava in Bangalore; Lucknow Sangeet Natak Festival and of course the most important festival of Konark in Odisha. A popular artist of no mean repute.
She has been awarded, besides the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Citation from Viswa Bharati, Santiniketan, Udayshankar Award from Pratisruti Parishad, Sringarmoni from Sursingar Samsad, Mumbai, Siromoni Award from Asian Paints, Outstanding Young Person Award from Indian Junior Chambers, Talented Ladies Award from Bharat Nirman, Mahari Award given by Guru Pankaj Charan Das Odissi Research Foundation, Received National Scholarship from Dept. of Culture, Govt. of India, Received Junior Fellowship from Dept. of Culture, Govt. of India and Senior Fellowship from Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.
Her journey continues. The sky is the limit and she has ‘miles to go….’