Friday Review

Recognition at the right time

Ileana Citaristi Photo S. Siva Saravanan.   | Photo Credit: S_SIVA SARAVANAN

Acclaimed Odissi dancer Ileana Citaristi received the first Nalco Kharavela Award instituted by NALCO (National Aluminium Company Limited) for promoting Odissi dance in India and abroad in the Guru category in January this year at Bhubaneswar. It has come at a time when her institution Art Vision in Bhubaneswar gets ready to celebrate its 20th anniversary in June. So the time is right to speak to this renowned dancer, author, choreographer and Guru.


After Padma Shri, what does this award mean to you?

Naturally Padma Shri is of maximum importance but the NALCO award is important because it is from Odisha. And it is always satisfying when you are recognised in your own home town. Not the ‘janmasthana’ but the second birthplace! So I was very happy. Whenever anyone from Odisha thinks about me I am really happy.

Was your autobiography, “My Journey - A Tale of Two Births”, timed with the 20th anniversary of Art Vision?

No. Actually, I started writing two to three years back and always wrote while travelling on my laptop that I carry. I never wrote any single sentence while sitting at home. So it was like a diary, a journey. As you said it was actually like a novel! When I used to tell people some anecdotes of my experience in the past, what I was facing during the years when I first came here and how many were interviewing me, many pieces of my life started coming out. Over the years people asked me, “Why don’t you write?” So that was there, plus at a certain point I thought, just to put some order in bringing my mind to whatever has happened till now – like one brings order to the contents inside a cupboard – I must put it down in writing. For me the past is very important. By nature I am a nostalgic person. My thoughts and memories are precious to me. So they are with me. Moreover, in a sense I am here alone as all my roots and everything of the past belong to Italy! Here it’s a new phase of life, but still that part is within me. So it was a good thing for me to reconnect and put it down. Nobody here was inquisitive or suspicious about my past. Nobody asked me anything about it and accepted me open-heartedly without questioning. So that was a great thing in Cuttack where I was for 12 years. In that way I found a lot of families who were very affectionate, even though I did not have my family. I really want to give credit to these people in general, without mentioning any names. That is the general attitude of the people in Odisha, especially in Cuttack. So that way also NALCO award is important.

How do you look back at Art Vision?

I started Art Vision quite late in the sense that I was already here for 16 years when I started it. I didn’t start before because I wanted to be a little free. I used to be invited here and there, hold workshops for one month and so on. I knew that once I start a school, I would not be able to move around so frequently. I felt the need to start my own institution for two reasons. One was when I started my own choreography “Maya Darpana” in 1994 and had literally to borrow some dancers from other groups like Jhelum Paranjepaye and work with them as I didn’t have my own dancers. It became difficult to carry on as they were in Mumbai and I was in Bhubaneswar. After two years we could not carry it on anymore. So I thought, if I have to do choreography, I must have my own group, my own students. Second reason was that I wanted to pass on whatever I had learnt from Guruji (Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra). I learnt it in great details as I stayed with him for more than 20 years till his death. I meticulously reported every item I learnt with their variations and corrections, if any. I was lucky that I learnt from him in the early 1980s when his style and maturity was on top . So all the compositions and the refinements that are being carried on now had matured at that time and I was receiving them all. So I wanted to pass it down. Along the way, there have been a lot of frustrations also.

Can you elaborate?

All the students of the first batch got married. After giving so much energy and time, they go away. Most of them are girls and their destinies are all similar. In Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s school, I had hardly seen any boy students. Somehow they all go to a school where there are only boys. Even though the first batch has gone I could take care of the second batch and tried to develop the third. Today I am ready to substitute anyone, anytime if they have exams or there is a sudden shift of location or pressure of families to get married. I have got used to all these things.

There were frustrations because of situations and things you have to face with your students like sudden arguments. I was so obedient to my Guru that I would never question anything and even when I was thinking that maybe it was not right, I would not argue with him. In my mind I would think how I could take it to my advantage. I was able to analyse even a punishment like not being taken in a dance-drama positively in such a way that I would think okay now I can develop my solo programme. Whatever injustice I was feeling, turned out later on to be a positive lesson in my favour. In 1986 he stopped teaching me because he had heard from somewhere that I had said something about him. It was terrible for me, like dying, not going to the class! Due to that I went back to my country after six years. Otherwise, I would not have gone. And when I came back after a month, he was absolutely normal and didn’t even remember anymore that he was angry with me.

What are your plans for Art Vision?

The vision is always in front – the target. For example the ideal student has to come who can carry on the Art Vision after me. My aim is to choreograph. I would continue to explore risky areas and choreograph. Art Vision has taught me to be a teacher as well as an organiser. It has changed my attitude as a teacher.

But I realise that I am still in general known more as a solo Odissi dancer. I would like to be more recognised as a choreographer even though I was one of the first ones to attempt something so bold in Odissi as “Maya Darpana” for which I was criticised so much. Despite this I did a lot of work in Chhau and other productions

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 3:03:20 AM |

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