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A tribute in dance

In a beautifully choreographed performance, Odissi guru Chitra Krishnamurti and her students from Nrityalaya, Maryland, put together their admiration for Dr G Venkataswamy, the founder of Aravind Eye Hospital

Complementing each other on stage, Sanchari Ghosh, Rashmi Naik, Diva Parekh, Jennifer Gonsalves and Siona Prasad engaged the audience for close to two hours with intricate footwork and grace, flexible body movements and lyricism and beautiful stretches of expressions. With confidence and flair, they reached out the story of Dr.G Venkataswamy, the founder and former chairman of Aravind Eye Hospital (AEH). The show was a special tribute to the renowned ophthalmologist in his birth centenary year.

The five dancers, in their twenties and pursuing different streams of education in the US, had never met Dr.V, as he is widely known. Their guru Dr.Chitra Krishnamurti read and narrated his life story to the young dancers. “He dealt with visually challenged people who express themselves through touch and feel. And dance is also about the same,” she reminded her students while conceiving ideas on Dr.V’s contribution to society for the stage. And the artists’ connect with the audience was just right.

“Since the audience consisted mostly of the hospital staff who knew Dr.V well, I thought of celebrating his work through people and colours of the temple town instead of describing the person and his struggles,” said Chitra after the performance. The challenge, according to her, was to perform in front of a knowledgeable audience that knew him too well.

Putting out the scenes in classical Odissi style interspersed with mime and narration, the production sailed smooth. Barefoot and brightly clad dancers covered the stage in the opening Temple scene invoking Lord Jagannath. The dancers rose elegantly and each of them gave an insight into their individual finesse. The scene then shifted to a villager with failing eyesight entering the temple with her daughter, who cries because her mother cannot see the deity. A doctor who happens to be in the temple tells them about AEH and takes them to an eye camp where the duo is impressed by Dr.V’s dedication to help people suffering needless blindness.

The next scene celebrates flowers and seasons with an ensemble of ragas and talas. “I chose this theme because Dr.V received his spiritual inspiration from the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and it is said that the Mother loved flowers and associated attributes and personalities with the flowers,” says Chitra.

Since patients from all over Tamil Nadu visit Madurai AEH, the next scenes celebrated the city with a tribute to goddess Meenakshi and the hospital with songs and dance from shores and mountains. The finale was a vibrant number depicting the colours of the rainbow to signify the journey of millions of people from darkness to light.

The dancers found the experience exciting as the people who were watching them were part of what they were presenting. “The audience watched in silence and gave us the energy to get everything right,” said Sanchari Ghosh, the senior most in the team and only one on her second trip to India

“It is a sense of fulfilment for me to watch my students perform and be applauded by the audience,” said Chitra, who combines her passion for Odissi she learnt from Sanjukta Panigrahi and Kelucharan Mohapatra with science. A Ph.D in biochemistry, she worked as Deputy Director at the National Institutes of Health, Maryland and also set up Nrityalaya in 1990. She is credited with several shows including “Gita Govindam”, “Dasavatar”, “Sudama Charitram”, “Karna”, “Devi”, “Mahatma Gamdhi” that have travelled across the world.

“Science is my life and dance is my passion,” says Chitra,, “and my students are the cultural ambassadors,” she says.

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