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Shaambhavi Pathak
19 Jul 2016

The Tale of How an Italian Won the Hearts of Indians: Ileana Citaristi’s Romance with Orissa and Odissi

The affection of the Western Civilization for India is nothing new. Be it the Prussians in the Medieval Ages, or the Mughals, to our modern day philosophers and writers like Romain Rollan and Ruskin Bond, Indian soil has embraced people from all races and ethnicities with open arms.

Indians are simple people. It does not take a lot to woo us. Shower some love on us, show your respect for our culture and become one with us. That’s it! We will accept you with open arms and open minds. No questions asked. From the ancient times to the modern era, we have been adding gems to our cap; making strangers from distant lands our sons and daughters.

Dr. Citaristi is one such gem. Born and raised in Italy, she came to India in 1979 and has since made the subcontinent her home.

In her own words, “I was in search of a land where I could express in a total and unrestricted way those inner questions of the soul that could not find satisfaction in any of the solutions offered by the present patterns of living of this western civilization. After completing my doctorate in philosophy and having worked for some years in both traditional and experimental theatre in my own country, Italy, I followed the callings of ancestral and inexplicable paths and reached this land of Orissa. Here, completely dedicated to the sacred art of Indian dance at the feet of my guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, I am able to give shape to the inner striving of the soul and overcome the anxiety of human existence.”

Dr. Citaristi found solace in the Odissi Dance Style. She is equally at home with the Chhau Dance of Mayurbhanji. Garnered with the prestigious Padmashree in 2006, Dr. Citaristi works and trains students at her Orissa based Dance Academy, Art Vision which recently celebrated 20 years of its inception here in New Delhi on 13th and 14th of July, 2016.

The Dance Academy conducts classes in Chhau and Odissi dances for both local and visiting students. The characteristic of the troupe comprises of dance recitals as well as original compositions. Here in New Delhi, the Art Vision Academy kicked off its two successful decades with Tribhanga: Explorations in Odissi Dance. The festival also included an exhibition showcasing 20 phenomenal years of Art Vision and was produced by Teamwork Arts.

While being associated as an on-ground blogger for Teamwork Arts, I had the opportunity to witness the Legendary Acharya live. Having been trained in Indian Classical Music myself, I have a deep seated love and respect for our Performing Arts and I was excited to be a part of this evening. Taking out time from my working schedule asked for some adjustments, but towards the end of the evening, everything was worth it.

The excitement, anticipation and expectations: Pre-Show Ambience

As I occupied a seat in the lone fourth row from the back, anticipatory chatter from the already present audience filled my ears. It was, after all, a show people had been eagerly waiting for. There were dignitaries greeting each other over the sweet symphony of Ma Reva from the Band Indian Ocean filling the auditorium. I could almost predict, the evening was going to be a good one. The auditorium filled up slowly, which was another premonition of how much people were looking forward to rediscovering their roots.

Enthralled, Enraptured and Scintillated: Performances filled with sheer brilliance

The show aimed to take the audience through a journey of human experiences and their transformational alterations over the course of life. The first performance was Saraha, which laid firmly the foundation of the event and kick-started the evening.

Saraha was inspired by the mythical tale of Saraha, the founder of Tantric sect in the Tibetan Region. Saraha symbolises a disoriented man who has lost connection with his inner self. Searching all around for guidance, he finds solace not in the learned or the ascetic but in a low caste woman.

The constantly shifting light shadows set the ambience as the artists took over the stage and captivated us all with their enthralling performance.

The second highlight of the evening was another thought provoking performance titled Kaala or Time. The dance production explored the concept of time through the latent aspect of un-manifested time to the first pulsation and finally to the inception of an organic life.

The production was aptly titled as I lost all track of time. The scintillating choreography, the beautiful, graceful dancers and their thoughtful expressions and the uplifting music lined with percussion and the dulcet tones of the singers, all made me cling to my seat and left me craving for more. There were moments so overpowering, I felt chills running down my spine and goosebumps rising against my skin. I was still in awe when the performance ended.

Looking forward to the forthcoming day: Post Show Thoughts

I could not wait to get back to Kamani Auditorium again. The performances lined up for the 14th were Siddhartha and Karuna, both conceptualised, orchestrated and choreographed by Dr. Citaristi. Stay tuned for the second edition of the blog in series which will focus on the second day of the event!

Tags: Dance, Indian Classical, Indian Collaboration, Italian Artists, Odissi Dance