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The raga of true living

There is plenty of beauty to be appreciated. Nature's wondrous aspects are perennially on display, but they often remain unnoticed. Fortunately some individuals have an eye for the beautiful, and their inner quest leads them to derive value from every experience. ANJANA RAJAN finds one of them in Colette Pruvot, an artiste from France... .

Colette Pruvot... all for dance. Photo: R. V. Moorthy.

KATHAK EXPONENT Colette Pruvot grew up in Lille, France. But her foreign origin is not her sole title to fame. Neither is her son, Charles - a popular deejay from Mumbai. Colette's great quality is her ability to derive beauty from around her, like the proverbial swan strains milk from the water.

"There was always music in our family. We were a family of artists and teachers. I was very fond of what is now called world music, that I used to call ethnic, and this led me to dance."

She has learnt Tap dancing as also a number of folk dance forms including those of France, Yugoslavia, central Europe and Israel. "Usually, whatever country I go to, I visit the Cultural Ministry to find out about the folk dances I can learn there."

"The first time I saw Indian dance I was quite impressed. But at the time Paris was the only place you could learn Indian dance in France. There was not even a speed train from Lille! I found a Bharatanatyam class in Paris but the schedule did not suit my train timings, so I enrolled for Afro-Brazilian dance instead. Later the Bharatanatyam timings changed, so I was able to take some classes."

Colette subsequently travelled to Kerala where she studied Mohiniattam. But she was unconsciously searching for a form that suited not only her aesthetics but also her temperament and physique. Returning to France, she saw a Kathak performance by Pushpa Buyian who was in Lille during the Festival of India, and was greatly attracted to it. Soon after, Colette - a trained Primary teacher - got a job in Israel, and after much research found a teacher in American-born Susan Hall who had trained in India and used to partner Ram Shanar, a well-known performer in Israel.

But life was not merely song and dance. At that time she was a volunteer with the Sisters of Charity, who had started a hostel for Palestinian girls from six to 18 years. Some had been orphaned by the region's decades old war, while others had been sent by their parents. There were 40 under her direct charge. Colette's compassion, sense of humour and balanced view of life reveal themselves through her recounting of her adventures with this recalcitrant group of 40.

"I had to teach them dance, iron their clothes and take them to school in the mornings. We lived in a huge building with thick walls. There were babies, some disabled and able grown-ups, and 80 of these girls. My group went to the Spanish School in the Old City of Jerusalem. I still remember the uniform - a white shirt and brown skirt. I can tell you they were the most difficult children to manage. At first I thought I could ask them to cross the street two by two, but I soon realised that was not going to be possible!"

Colette has assiduously maintained her Kathak since 1986, between assignments in Jerusalem, Haifa and Pondicherry - where she studied under Ila Poddar for two years. Returning annually since 1991 to learn under Guru Munna Lal Shukla of Delhi's Kathak Kendra, some of her significant performances include a solo choreographed by her guru on a biblical theme, with music by Partho Das, and a collaboration with a Flamenco and an Oriental dancer - Michaela Harari and Yael Moav.

Back in India after a sojourn in Istanbul where she learnt to play the Turkish violin under a teacher who not only spoke but also dictated notes in Turkish alone, Colette is busy with Kathak riyaaz, and Hindustani vocal music. Turkish music, she discovered, uses a system of makaam, like ragas. As in the arts, she finds many similarities hidden in the languages - Hebrew, French, Turkish, English, Hindi, Urdu - with which she is familiar though not fluent in all.

Colette is known to her friends as Yona - the Arabic for dove. She exemplifies the peace that comes of being able to see beauty in its myriad forms, and it is satisfying to think that in her travels across the world, she has shared this vision with countless children.

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