India is known for its richness in culture and art forms which has attracted many from several other countries towards it. One such person, who has made India a home, is Padma Shri Dr Illeana Citaristi, an Italian by nationality, but an Odia at heart. Decades ago, this artiste came to India to learn dance and began her journey with Kathak in Kerala and then moved to Odisha to learn Odissi which became her soul and passion thereafter.
“I visited Kerala for a 3 months’ workshop thinking these movements can be applied in theatre back in Italy. But this Kathak guru told me about Odissi which brought me to Orissa. I thought I would spend six months in the State, but once I started learning from Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the six months became six years and I never went back to Italy,” adds Ileana laughingly. Now, it’s been 40 years since Ileana made Odisha her home.
The dancer has also mastered Mayurbhanj Chau, and also holds the title of an Acharya of Chhau conferred by the Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, Bhubaneshwar.
When quizzed about how India received her, the artiste shares, “My first performances were received very well by the critics. Most say that when they see me on stage, they don’t recognise me as an Italian. But a major challenge was to be accepted in certain prestigious places like Khajuraho, Konark festival which took years. Also, ICCR took very long to consider me,” she adds.
Recalling her experience on receiving Padma Shri, Ileana shares, “I came to India like other foreigners visiting the country. I was all alone not knowing the language or anyone. And here I was, in Vigyan Bhawan, in the centre of this country with the President, Prime Minister and ministers around me. This was the image I had in my mind while receiving the prestigious award. That was a very big emotion for me.”
The Odissi artist had performed at Our Sacred Space in the city where she performed on three shades of love – bhakti, vatsalya and rati.