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How an Italian Rebel Mastered Odissi Dance to Win the Padma Shri

A resident of Bhubaneswar, the very talented Ileana Citaristi is the first dancer of foreign descent to receive a Padma Shri!

Legendary Odissi dancer, Padmashri Dr Ileana Citaristi holds an Italian passport but has been living in Odisha, India, since 1979. She identifies herself as being “Italian by nationality but an Odia at heart.”

Ileana is a native of Bergamo, Italy. She spent five years as an actress, working in traditional and experimental theatre in Italy before deciding to learn Kathakali.

Citaristi wanted to experiment with forms of expression and style. She came to India to learn dance forms which she could utilize for theatre.She began with Kathakali and spent three months in Kerala. Later her Guru suggested other forms of dance to her that could help in theatre and could be used for expression, he suggested her to learn Odissi. Since then, from the year 1979 she has been learning Odissi under Guru Padma Bibhushan Kelu Charan Mohapatra.

“When I saw an Indian classical dance performance in Italy, I learnt about its amazing physical grammar. My guru then taught me how every movement had a meaning and a function. This is what I was searching for in my work and how I got connected to the Indian classical dance,” Citaristi remarked to Khaleej Times, on her Indian connection.

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“In 1979 I decided I wanted to learn more and planned to stay in Odisha for six months to learn the classical Odissi dance. But those six months changed to six years without me going back to Italy. My only focus was the lane that leads me to my guruji’s school where I learnt Odissi,” she further added.

She went to Kerala in 1979 for three months of rigorous training, before coming to Odisha on her guru, Krishnan Namboodari’s advice. She has been living in Odisha ever since.

“Odisha is now my home”, Citaristi has said in an interview. She identifies herself as a tourist in her own country- Italy and says she has no plans of going back.

After studying Odissi under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Ileana started her school of dance in 1994 and founded the Art Vision Academi in 1996. The academy acts as a platform for sharing ideas between various art forms like theatre, music, dance and painting. The Academi also conducts classes on Chhau and Odissi.

Ileana holds the title of an Acharya of Chhau conferred by the Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, Bhubaneshwar. She is an exponent of Mayurbhanj Chhau, which she learnt under the tutelage of Guru Hari Nayak. Citaristi also holds a Doctorate of Philosophy on “Psychoanalysis and Eastern Mythology.”

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