In my initial years in Odisha; every door in Cuttack was open for me: Ileana Citaristi

For an Italy-born Indian Odissi dancer, it wasn’t a sea of roses. It was a difficult task for her initially to make pace with in the land of culturally talented people and art lover, especially because she was a Non-Indian rather a non Odia, yet she called Odisha her home.
Presenting you Padmashree Ileana Citaristi, who has a Doctorate in Philosophy, has mastered a range of classical Indian dance forms like Odissi, Kathakali and Mayurbhanj Chaau. Here is an excerpt from a candid conversation with OdishaDiary’s Sneha Mitra on her life and her connection with Odisha.
Sneha: You belong to a family of one of the leading democratic of Italy, yet you chose to be an artist. What made you choose this profession?
Ileana Citaristi: May be because of that! (Smiles) I am the only one in our family who has taken up the artistic profession. My father was an artist in himself. He loved different art forms, but failed to take it up professionally. So, I am living his dreams now. Other than that, I loved art myself and wanted to learn different forms of it. It was my passion which is now my profession. I enjoy it a lot.
Sneha: You began with working as a theatre artist, came to India to learn Kathakali and the learnt Odissi. How has your journey been?
Ileana Citaristi: I spent around five years as an actress in theatre in Italy. I wanted to experiment with forms of expression and style. I came to India to learn dance forms which I could utilize for theatre, so I began with Kathakali and spent three months in Kerala. Later when I asked my Guru to suggest me other forms of dance that could help in theatre and could be used for expression, he suggested me to learn Odissi. Since then, in the year 1979 I have been learning Odissi under Guru Padma Bibhushan Kelu Charan Mohapatra. My autobiography is also going to be out soon, which would have all the details.
Sneha: You are also an exponent of Mayurbhanj Chau, which is a folk dance. Folk dances in India are very much different from the classical dance. Since you have learnt both, what difference do you find between both?
Ileana Citaristi: There isn’t much to differentiate. Mayurbhanj Chau is considered as a Semi-classical dance form. Though I didn’t focus much in the Chau dance, I learnt it for the theatre purposes.   The lifts involved in it give the strength to perform. I cannot actually differentiate between both, but Chau dance is the root form of dance of Odisha.
Sneha: Tell us about Art Vision.
Ileana Citaristi: Art Vision was formed in 1995 with the group of artists who wanted a common ground for sharing experience and ideas. We conduct various events which depicts the multi-disciplinary nature of art. In 1996, Festival of environment was organized at the Adivasi ground, Bhubaneswar. Kalinga Mahotsav, a festival which completely presented the martial dance was started in the year 2003, and used to take place in the foothills of Dhauli stupa till 2010.This apart, we also organize cultural event in own mini-auditorium on the bank of Bindu Sagar Lake situated in Old Bhubaneswar. During this event dance forms like ‘Gotipua’, ‘Das-leela’, ‘Ram-leela’ and few other folk theatres are presented. Also, in memory of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, a cultural event is organized every year on 7th April at Rabindra Mandap.
Sneha: Share your experience working as a choreographer in Yugantar, a Bengali film for which you also won the Best Choreographers Award in the National Film Award 1996.
Ileana Citaristi: I was surprised, for good of course! (Smiles) It was a nice experience indeed. I had to change few steps according to the actress who was playing the role of a choreographer in the film. She was a beginner and had very less idea about dance. It was a challenge as well as learning. But, I was disheartened when the people didn’t call me for the post processing of the videos and I had almost lost touch with them. Announcement of my award during the Award Function was totally unexpected, yet good.
Sneha: How was it working for MF Hussain’s; Meenakshi: A tale of three cities?
Ileana Citaristi: Working for Hussain’s was a total different experience. It was a high budget film, and everything was perfect. I had to work hard for the choreography, as in used to practice in some different location which was totally different from the main sets. The performances didn’t go in order. We used to shoot the last part of the song first, then some other half and so forth. But in total it was a great experience working for them. And I was glad they liked my work.
Sneha: In a recent interview, you said “Odisha is now my home”. Share with us your initial experience in the state.
Ileana Citaristi: The first place which I came to when I landed in Odisha was Cuttack. And the people out there were very welcoming. I had spent my initial years there at Cuttack and I never felt like a stranger. Every door in Cuttack was open for me, people used to call me ton their residence to enjoy a fest with me. I was honored and delighted to be a part of them. They also helped me grasp the local language.
Sneha: “Guru Padma Vibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra as a teacher”. Comment
Ileana Citaristi: Teacher is a small word for him. He is a Guru. Whatever I am today is because of him. He had taught me the art of Odissi dance. His blessings and teachings has been always there because of which I am here today.
Sneha: Talking about the incident during the RathYatra this year, what would you like to say about the entry of foreigners in the Jaganath Temple?
Ileana Citaristi: I was shocked over the behavior of the pandit who ill-treated. Probably because he dint know who I was. But the basic is that, the matter got highlighted because I was a part of it. Had it been some other local foreign traveler, people wouldn’t have known about it. I do understand the custom but there is a way of treating people. But then, few things cannot be changed.
Sneha: You performed on the 4th day of Konark Festival this year. How does it feel being a part of it?
Ileana Citaristi: Giving a performance in Konark Festival is always a good experience. I and my group performed for the first time in 2008, and it was wonderful. There is something in that Natya Mandap, the open air, the live music and the crowd. We performed Shiv Asthakam this year where the dancers pay homage to the Lord Shiva. We generally practiced with the recorded music, so performing on the live music was a challenge but we did it pretty well.
Sneha: Do you travel back to Italy?
Ileana Citaristi: Yes! I do visit Italy at times. And it is like I am a tourist in the country I was born. Every time I go there I discover something new, and I enjoy it. But then I have no plans of returning back to Italy permanently.
Sneha: Apart from Dancing, who do you like to do?
Ileana Citaristi: I am a fun loving and an adventurous person. I used go for hike trips back in Europe. I like travelling and doing new things.
Sneha: Share with us the funniest moment experience in Odisha.
Ileana Citaristi: I don’t know if that was the funniest experience or not, but few years ago when I had called for a press conference before the start of a new cultural event, we gave a good brief of what is going to happen in the event. It was about the martial art festival which art vision organizes. Next day in the newspaper (odiya newspaper) it comes out that Ileana Citaristi will be playing a Citar in the upcoming event. (Laughs) It was so funny. People used to get confused with my last name, but now I guess they are acquainted of it.
Sneha: Odisha is a culturally rich state, but when we step outside people consider it to be poor and a not so happening state. What would you like to say on this context?
Ileana Citaristi: I really feel sad about it and that is why I promote it as much as possible. People outside the state should know how rich the culture and custom of Odisha is.
Sneha: Lastly, what message would you like to give to the fellow Odissi dancers of the state?
Ileana Citaristi: I would say that, if you’re pursuing this dance form then do it seriously. There is a lot to be learnt. Give full dedication and also give your best.

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