Dance is one of the many facets of art in which Chitra Visveswaran has soaked herself.
“Gange, Jaya Gange
Patitho Dharini, Punya Tarange...”
Memories of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Brook’ came alive even as Chitra Visveswaran spoke animatedly about her productions, her influences, her interests and her philosophy in a freewheeling chat. Chitra spent her growing years in Kolkata, learning dance not merely as a separate field of study in isolation, but as an all inclusive process. She learnt Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Manipuri, Rabindra Nritya, Carnatic Music, Rabindra Sangeeth, Theatre, Aesthetics of Stagecraft, Painting, Literature, Languages, Politics and so on. The legendary Tapas Sen actually ‘threw light’ on much of her understanding of light designing on stage. If she picked up administrative skills with an eye for perfection from her father, Chitra learnt the art of aesthetics from her mother.
Kolkata provided the right atmosphere for Chitra to imbibe art and literature, which were her subjects at Lady Brabourne College. And so it was that Chitra grew up in a family of liberal-minded and educated members. Her grandfather got his widowed daughter remarried!
The girl imbibed much from the cultural scenario that ‘the city of joy’ had to offer. Her mother taught her early on that art would become her anchor later on. It was indeed a cruel twist of fate that Chitra had to be the son and the daughter in her parents’ lives, for her sibling turned out to be a non-verbal special child.
Small wonder then that Chitra soaked herself in her art. For, it was only on the stage that Chitra could dance in the pure joy of the moment. Her English professor Vishwanathan and her mother drove home one important point to her: “Do not sacrifice the soul at the altar of physicality.” Chitra was to remember this at every stage in her dance career, and later in her years of teaching. This aspect was seen as a conspicuous element even in a recent production, ‘Anubhooti.’ Her students confess that they learn more than what they came looking for - art, music, stage, lighting and textile… they learn life skills.
Marriage of minds
Talking about her late husband Visveswaran she says, theirs was a marriage of two minds, enriching and complementing the other. Visveshwaran, the nephew of the legend GNB, was an accomplished musician and enjoyed in the creative process of her numerous productions, by composing and lending his voice as well. When santoor maestro Pt. Shivkumar Sharma asked him to give up all else to the exclusion of santoor, he said he could give up all else except singing for his wife and composing music for her productions!
Speaking about her productions and choreography, Chitra admits that the success is the result of years of hard work and collecting, assimilating, understanding and analysing information. She explains that she was trained at a time when dancers had to double as students and do their research too. So much so, practice, learning and research were everyday processes.
To Chitra, choreography meant not merely premeditated movement and rhythm to music, but a holistic approach. “Choreography is a painting in motion,” says Chitra. Choreography then means thinking about all aspects of the production simultaneously -- from its very inception to music, dance, light and aharya. While Chitra imbibed the various inter connected art forms, she chose dance as the “one.” She understood that everything else had to enrich the path that she had chosen.
Her understanding of lighting was so powerful that she used floor lighting for instance, in a production to depict the Kauravas, which she had visualised as a painting by the Old Dutch Masters. The Pandavas were crowned with golden hues from atop bringing forth the imagery of an Impressionist art work! In another production, where she had to show the Ardhanari, Chitra just used the spotlight by making the most perfect moves to show the ‘bilateral symmetry’ in a perfect divide from head to toe. It was little wonder then that Gautam Bhattacharya, the famed lighting designer, said years ago, “Chitra is one Bharatanatyam dancer who thinks of lighting so aesthetically.” It is significant because she used it in the ‘1970s when others used only bright white lights!’
Singularly important is also Chitra’s need to revisit her productions with a critical eye and deep introspection. Her philosophical attitude also stems from the unshakeable faith in the guidance of her spiritual guru, Vittamma, who has diverted much of her energy to the path of seeking spiritual peace.
Much water has flowed. Many bridges have been crossed. Chitra has generously shared much of the wealth she has received. Recipient of several awards including Padma Shri, Nrithya Choodamani, Kalaimamani and Sangeet Natak Akademi.
Chitra is all set to receive yet another award – Natya Kala Acharya, conferred by The Music Academy, Chennai, today.
As Chitra moves on in her life as a dancer, there is a certain calmness in her, like when one moves towards the ocean seeking contentment of a life well lived.