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Make classical dance a must in schools: Chitra Visweswaran
CHENNAI, January 14: For her, dance is not an end in itself. "Dance is a window to great world culture," she says. For her, bhakthi is more to do with “spiritual awakening”. Bhakthi need not necessarily mean God. "God is omnipresent. God is present in truth, in love and in the smile of a child. God is present in the elements. We need the form of a God to concentrate," she reasons.

A Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer, teacher, researcher and, above all, a loving sister, Chitra Visweswaran spoke frankly at a coffee chat organized by Deccan Chronicle on January 13 at the Rasam Restaurant here.

As Chitra the dancer was interviewed, one got to get a peep into Chitra the person. An adamant girl, a rebellious youngster, a passionate learner, a focused artiste, a caring teacher and, above all, a lovely person – Chitra the artiste walked us to a trip down her memory lane to get an insight into the person in her.

The power of dance
"We often take dance for granted," she said. Why did she say this? Even before one could seek her clarification on this, she elaborated it. She left the listeners in deep silence. This handsome young boy was suffering from Autism. At one point, the doctors had even given up on him. But he survived. He was put into dancer Ambika Kameshwar’s school for the special children. Since then, his life has changed. Today, he is able to communicate. He can express what he wants, thanks to Ambika who taught him little abhinayas. The Autism-hit person is none other than the younger brother of Chitra. The real life personal story is a telling testimony to the power of dance. It goes beyond the obvious and into the realms of intangibles.

Need policy for classical art
Chitra the dancer was keen that her fellow colleagues in the fraternity lived a decent life in the society. She wanted classical dance to be made compulsory at primary schools. In this fast-phased modern world, double income was a must for a husband-wife combo to survive. Given this harsh reality, how could one expect anyone to pursue his/her passion for dance? The RoI (return on investment) on dance was very minimal for a professional dancer unless he/she took to teaching, conducting workshops, costume-designing et al. "You have to be a multi-faceted and multi-tasking person to be a successful professional dancer in this day where cost of living has gone up substantially," she said. There was no stability for a professional dancer, she added. Chitra wanted the Government to step in to help the cause of art. Is there any policy to protect the culture, art and artiste? The art-sponsoring corporates, too, focused only on a few select artistes. "It isn't enough to wax eloquence on the greatness of our culture," she said. The Government must "hold its hands with the corporate sector and come out with a proper policy," she asserted.

What will happen to an artiste if he/she is sick? "There is no medical insurance. There are no other benefits for an artiste," she pointed out.

Often, insufficient funds were allocated to establish cultural institutions in remote places, where accessibility became an issue. "If dancers get jobs as teachers in schools, they can concentrate on dance. This can be their bread and butter. They can get pension, provident fund and other facilities," she said. “Why can’t we have job quotas for artistes cutting across canvass?" she asked. In this context, she said the folk arts were almost dying in the rural areas. The same thing was happening to the classical art slowly in absence of government support, she added. The instability (vis-a-vis income) factor was the reason why her husband Visweswaran (whose mother was a sister of G.N. Balasubramaniam) was not allowed by their parents to choose music as a profession though he was passionate about it.


Chitra Visweswaran writes
I do not know how I left out a couple of important points in that very interesting morning get-together! My mother, late Rukmani Padmanabhan, a very graceful dancer and veena player, who lived almost all her life in North India, moulded my entire attitude towards dance. She sowed the seed that dance, to me, should be the means to a spriritual end and this bore complete fruition under my immediate Guru Mathaji Vithamma. Our Guru's intervention not only gave my husband an added bonus of lifespan but was instrumental in the rehabilitation of my brother, Arun, who, in addition to being mentally challenged, is non-verbal. I consider it a great blessing to be able to look after such a Pure Soul.


A multi-faced person

Chitra did Honours in English before she actually pursued dance as her profession because “my father thought I should have formal education”. Chitra was performing and teaching right from the age of sixteen. She learnt western classical ballet at the age of five. She then underwent training in Kathak and Manipuri at Kolkatta. She then learnt Bharatanatyam from one of the last of Devadasis of Tiruvidaimarudur Smt.T.A.Rajalakshmi. Her father late N. Padmanabhan allowed her to learn dance only on the condition that that she would continue dancing. She also underwent training from Vazuvoor Ramaiah Pillai for four years (from 1970-74).Chitra said she had to shell out huge fees for dance even in those days.

Spread harmony via art
To a query, she agreed that communal clashes could be controlled by bringing the folk artistes to cities to perform. These artistes used various limb movements as a way of dance for physical and mental relaxation. "Promoting folk art festivals in cities could facilitate mutual understanding and respect for each other's culture. This will bring in communal harmony," she pointed out.

Chitra felt that she had to take a step backward and give chance to youngsters to perform and not hog the entire limelight herself. This was the reason why she had been doing more dance-dramas. That way, she could take on a major burden of the expenses. After an age, an artiste had to perform selectively and occasionally. "You (senior artistes) need to give inspiration to youngsters through meaningful performances in a selective way," she said.

Chitra was of the view that too many things were happening in music and dance during December and in the first week of January. "Why don’t we have it in February or say in alternate months?” she asked. “I think it would be much better if it is spread over the year,” she added. "Dance is a window to the world culture," she said and asserted. “I want my students to give it to everybody,” she added.