Devoted to dance

ARTISTIC SPIRIT

Devoted to dance

TALENT PERSONIFIED Chitra Vishweshwaran

Respect for her erudition. Admiration for the grace and beauty of her presentations. With Chitra Vishweshwaran, it is a combination of rare aesthetic sensibilities and a razor sharp intellect. A personality who has danced her way across the world and into the minds and hearts of connoisseurs of Bharatanatyam. Chitra is not just another dancer in the conventional sense, but an artiste who has made this art form a way of life.

Not surprisingly, Chitra sees music as an inseparable part of dance. While it is essential for a dancer to learn music and familiarise herself with aspects of melody and rhythm, it is even more important to sensitise oneself to music. As Chitra says, “When the dancer becomes one with the music and experiences it, it lends a depth to the dance that touches a chord within.”

It is only then that dance becomes a language in itself. According to Chitra, for one to mature as a dancer, a thorough study and understanding of the grammar of music is absolutely essential. When the music courses through the body, its not mere dance, but “music of the body”. When this threshold is reached, it is immaterial to the dancer whether the number being performed is an exclusive dance piece or a regular music concert composition.

This is reflected in the extensive repertoire of Chitra. The regular Bharatanatyam format apart, Chitra’s oeuvre includes the compositions of the Carnatic Music Trinity of Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry, those of Papanasam Shivan, Maharaja Swati Tirunal, Oothukadu Venkata Kavi, among others. 

Chitra admits that this quest for newer horizons has not been merely for cerebral satiation, but for an inner enrichment. “I have crossed parochial borders, religious boundaries, philosophical interpretations and cultural differences in this journey.”
The highpoint of this journey has been her association with violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman. Learning and incorporating Lalgudi’s varnams and padavarnams in her performances, Chitra not only enlarged her collection, but also deepened her musical knowledge. The magnificent padavarnam, composed by Lalgudi, based on Adi Shankara’s Soundarya Lahari, with exquisite choreography by Chitra and musical inputs from her talented husband Vishweshwaran, is a testimony  to Chitra’s intellectual quest.

Innate talent, a culturally evolved family background, exposure to diverse styles like Kathak, Manipuri, Western Classical Ballet and the famed Uday Shankar school of dance at a young age and a rigorous training in Bharatanatyam under the eminent dancer of yesteryears, T A Rajalakshmi, saw Chitra emerging as a promising young star, whose next logical step was apprenticeship under the great Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai of the Tanjore School of Bharatanatyam on a Government of India National Scholarship.

Ramaiah Pillai honed her art, which is reflected today in Chitra’s choreographic skills and dexterity in abhinaya, the art of expressing emotions through body language. The teacher in Chitra saw her establishing the Chidambaram Academy of Performing Arts in Chennai in 1975, which is now one of the leading dance schools in India, recently recognised by IGNOU as a Program Study Centre for Bharatanatyam.

 The course of study here is a holistic one, covering all the aspects of dance and related areas, for as Chitra puts it, “It is extremely important for a dancer to be well versed, not only in dance, but well informed in sculpture, architecture, painting, literature, poetry, cultural history and philosophy too.” Though this may seem like a tall order in this age of ‘quickies’, the effectiveness of this approach cannot be overemphasised.

Another facet of Chitra’s personality is her involvement with issues concerning underprivileged and differently abled children. For an artiste of her standing, with the world as her stage and a string of awards and honours including the Padmashri, it would only be too easy to confine herself to the world of glitz and genteel elitism. But Chitra sets apart time for the collection of funds for RASA, an organisation working for differently abled people, and teaching dance to underprivileged children under the aegis of a religious organisation.

Finesse, grace, dignity, scholarship, eye for detail, and adherence to the basic tenets of classicism are the hallmarks of Chitra Vishweshwaran’s art which, in the words of Sanskrit dramatist Kalidasa, is ‘Drishya Kavya’ . Her journey has not been without the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, but then Chitra has withstood the buffeting with admirable poise and equanimity.

 That said, true to the saying that home is the first school and mother is the first teacher, Chitra remembers her mother’s words, “Dance not for fame, dance not for name, for dance is but a prayer.” In the words of the Upanishads, all of man’s endeavours must finally culminate in the realisation of that supreme universal spirit. The consummation of all art is the identification of the oneness of self with the paramatman. For the dancer, the body is the medium of expression and with Chitra Vishweshwaran, the tranquillity and bliss that come with total identification with the art transport the viewer to higher realms, away from the mundane.

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