Path of challenges

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. Chitra spent her growing years in Kolkata, learning dance not merely as a separate field of study, 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. . Her mother taught her early on that art would become her anchor. 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 point: “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 teaching. This aspect was seen as a conspicuous element even in a recent production, “Anubhooti”. Her students confess they learn more than what they came looking for — art, music, stage, lighting and textile… they learn life skills.

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 joined in the creative process of her numerous productions, composing and lending his voice as well. When santoor maestro Shivkumar Sharma asked him to give up all else to the exclusion of the 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.

To Chitra, choreography meant not merely premeditated movement and rhythm to music, but a holistic approach. “Choreography is a painting in motion,” she says. Choreography then means thinking about all aspects of the production simultaneously — from its inception to music, dance, light and aharya. 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!

It was little wonder then that Gautam Bhattacharya, noted 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.

Recipient of several awards including the Padma Shri, Nrithya Choodamani, Kalaimamani and Sangeet Natak Akademi, Chitra has also received this year’s Natya Kala Acharya Award conferred by The Music Academy, Chennai. 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.



So passionate was Chitra about textile that there was a time she had two looms running to make her narrow width saris, just so that she did not have to cut up regular saris! She was so adept at understanding fabric that she could identify a Rasipuram and Dharmapuri from a Kanchipuram by merely “smelling” it ! Her design sensibility extends even to her home, where every piece of furniture, every ceiling or wall space finds her inimitable signature imprint.