Cross Cultural Conversations: Four dancers share their experiences on learning, teaching and travelling

Ileana Citaristi, Vidhya Subramanian, Amrita Lahiri and Gauri Sharma Tripathi

Ileana Citaristi, Vidhya Subramanian, Amrita Lahiri and Gauri Sharma Tripathi  


Narratives on art and life: Four dancers come together to share their experiences on learning, teaching and travelling

Senior dancers and dance aspirants gathered at Deonar for an evening of ‘Cross Cultural Conversations’ hosted by the Beej Garage in collaboration with Ankh. Unseasonal rains lashed the roof while the four dancers of different genres of classical dance, from different geographical locations, shared their experiences.

How classical dance practice, pedagogies and choreographies get shaped across cultures. Each of them Ileana Citaristi, Vidhya Subramanian, Amrita Lahiri and Gauri Sharma Tripathi, operate from at least two countries.

The first question was posed by Amrita Lahiri who filled in as moderator in the absence of Sanjukta Wagh. What is your idea of home? Would you like to share the experiences of straddling two homes?

“I grew up in the U.S. and have homes in different places. Home has become a tactical reality. But always India feels like home,” said Amrita.

Ileana Citaristi responded by saying, “Home, for me is not synonymous with comfort zone and motherland, not necessarily birthplace. The present is my home, and the present is made up of memories and experiences of the past without interruptions, so the many homes merge into one.”

She recounted her first journey to India, which took her over a month, travelling through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and finally, to India.

Vidhya Subramanian recalled her learning curve under Swamimalai Rajaratnam Pillai in Chennai. Post-marriage Vidhya moved to the U.S., juggling home and art. “I was young and trying to understand teaching. It was quite different from the conventional class. For the past three decades I have been travelling between the U.S. and India. Chennai feels different now.”

Back to roots

Gauri Tripathi Sharma, daughter-disciple of Guru Padma Sharma, said that home is where dance is. Moving to London, with its unpredictable weather was not out of choice. “I made London my home, rediscovered my dance. I smelt the ithar of Lucknow in the perfumes of London. When I come back home, it brings back the Urjaa.”

Amrita Lahiri said that emigration movement sometimes defines the Indian dancer. “It contours images of glittering costume, thick make-up, music, etc. I learn to meet the challenges when I face such pre-conceived notions.”

Gauri shared the challenge of executing concepts, pushing boundaries and translating what one learnt to young kids today and students not familiar with the art form. Young girls have questions about Radha ki ched chad. Earlier it was easy when students accepted. “We constantly surrendered, I never questioned my mother.”

Shila Mehta from the audience suggested that philosophical connotation can be applied to thumris. Indian classical dance is more layered and can be unwrapped to find deeper adhyathmic wisdom.

Amrita said we imitated everything that is taught. But teaching has changed now. “Earlier Kuchipudi dancers were male and required more nuanced expressions.”

Vidhya added that students today question, “Why do I need a sakhi? Why the coyness?

“Italians are very passionate so abhinaya was never a problem,” said Ileana.

Gayatri Subramanian from the audience advocated the importance of remaining in touch with our grammar, literature and history.

Talking of contemporary, Amrita cited Sanjukta Wagh as the best example of relating to a multi-cultural audience. Using classical medium thought-provoking choreographies have happened.

Vidhya said she works comfortably in both traditional and contemporary. “Over the time I have seen evolution happening.”

Ileana averred that the best guru does not create copy cats. “Imbibe and express it in your natural way.” According to Vidhya, a teacher’s job is to inspire; pass on the passion to students while Gauri termed guru as the tool to ignite.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 8:54:04 PM |

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