Ileana Citaristi recalls how her quest for meaning in life coalesced with her search for a personal theatre language when she started learning Odissi.
Bhubaneswar is noted Odissi dancer Ileana Citaristi’s home. She trained in Odissi under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. . She also trained in Mayurbhanj Chhau for six years under Guru Sri Hari Nayak. She has many innovative choreographies to her credit, including “Kaala — Timebound” that was showcased at the Konarak Festival 2013. Besides, she has also choreographed some Odissi compositions. She researched for director Goutam Ghose’s film “A Tribute to Odissi” and gave dance direction for M.F. Hussain’s “Meenaxi, A Tale of Three Cities”.
But in an art scenario linked to the guru-shishya tradition, an artist’s contribution is often evaluated by the calibre of the students trained by her. In this aspect too, Ileana is coming into her own. At the Mukteswar festival held last month, her disciple Sawat Joshi regaled the audience with his solo performance. Here Ileana shares the highlights of her journey so far.
How did Odissi become a passion with you?
I was searching for a body language to adopt for my theatre work. I first saw a Kathakali demonstration in Italy. After three months of Kathakali training in Kerala, I came to know about Odissi. When I came to Odisha in 1979 I thought I would stay for only months but for six years I never went back to Italy even once.
You seemed to have made Odisha your home. Who or what inspired you to this?
It happened on its own; slowly the dance language I was learning and the cultural context surrounding it absorbed me totally. In Italy the search for a body language in theatre and the philosophical quest had remained separated, but here the two got together because learning dance was not only a physical experience but a spiritual one also.
Are you a very religious person?
Not in the sense of performing rituals. My religion is dance and dance practice. I believe in following whatever direction life is taking.
Are your choreographies religion- and mythology-based?
My choreographies are mostly on abstract themes. I start from a concept and build around it a sort of itinerary for the visualisation of the same.
What changes other than themes have you made in your productions?
In Odissi my first group choreography was “Maya Darpan” (1994) on the concept of “maya”. Other notable ones are “Mahanadi…and the river flows”, “Karuna” inspired by Mother Teresa’s life, “Saraha” based on Tantric aphorisms and “Kaala — Timebound”, an ode to the concept of Time. In Chhau style my first innovative choreography was “Echo and Narcissus”(1985) based on the Greek myth, followed by “The Journey” based on Japanese haikus and “ Images of Change” based on the Chinese concept of “yin” and “yang”
Was the Odia language a barrier to you?
I learnt to speak in Odia during the very first year of my staying in Odisha, so it has never been a problem at all.
Are you an Indian citizen?
I am Indian in every aspect except for my passport which is still Italian. I have received a number of awards, but the one I cherish the most is the Padma Shri.
What are some of the hardships you went through before becoming a dancer?
There was never any major hardship if I could reach Guruji’s place and attend his teaching. The real hardship would have been to be unable to do this.
What have been your best moments as a dancer and the founder secretary Art Vision Dance Academy?
Founding Art Vision Dance Academy was a proud moment for me. One of the best moments was when Guruji appreciated my first choreography by describing it as a “choreographic masterpiece”. And another memorable moment has been receiving the Padma Shri from the President of India for my contribution to Odissi dance.