Ileana Citaristi’s Italian odyssey into Odissi (With Images)

June 22nd, 2009 - 11:50 am ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi By Prashant K. Nanda
Bhubaneswar, June 22 (IANS) She hails from Italy, has lived in India for 30 years and is famous in her own right. The woman in question is not Congress president Sonia Gandhi, but her ardent admirer and Odissi dancer Ileana Citaristi.

Citaristi, who is immersed in the world of the Odissi classical dance form, says she adores Sonia Gandhi as a human being and politician but has no intention of following in her footsteps.

“She is an amazing lady. Though I have not interacted much with her, I adore Sonia Gandhi and feel proud of her position in India,” Citaristi, who has been living in the Orissa capital for decades, told IANS in an interview.

“She has reached a place that women in both India and Italy look up to. I am happy to be another Italian and celebrate her success. I never want to enter politics as my motto in life is to propagate Odissi across the globe,” she said.

The oriental journey of Citaristi, holding a doctorate in psychoanalysis and eastern mythology, started way back in 1978.

“My bubbling discontent brought me to India,” said the dancer who first decided to learn Kathakali before switching over to Odissi, which she learned under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.

“Initially, I was a rebel and it was not letting me conform to the very disciplinarian guruji. Slowly, I became a part of the grind. I don’t know when I turned into a devotee of Odissi,” she smiled, recalling her early days in the country.

The transformation was so vivid that the desire to have pasta and pizza gave way to relishing pure Oriya dishes like rice, dal and fish curry. “I still love pasta and pizza though,” said the dancer who still holds Italian citizenship.

She remembers the time when she decided to come to India. “I was in search of a land where I could learn the art of expressing the questions of soul, inner thoughts, and subtle expressions without uttering a word,” she said, animating a ‘mudra’ or dance gesture at her house, which combines elements of Oriya and Italian architecture.

Citaristi says her “odyssey that borders on lunacy was even construed as a mad journey three decades ago” when she left Italy. However, now she is a doyen of Odissi.

So far Citaristi has given over 500 performances in countries like Italy, the US, Britain, Malaysia, Australia, France, Argentina, Poland, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Hong Kong and Japan.

She has composed dozens of performances based on human growth, reasoning and the idea of metaphysics. In one of her favourite compositions, she said “Maya (illusion)” is as much metaphysical as poetic.

While popularising Odissi on the world stage and bringing laurels to Orissa, the artist knows that understanding the language is a must to express oneself on stage. Though she speaks Oriya, the intricacies of Oriya literature which often form part of her performances sometimes create a problem.

“I am consulting experts to overcome these difficulties so that I can enact literature on stage,” she said.

However, Citaristi also seeks a proper position for the classical dance form.

“I don’t want Odissi to be performed on the sidelines of an exhibition or mela (fair). I would like Odissi to be performed in every respectable platform along with other classical dance forms of the world,” said Citaristi, who has set up a foundation called Art Vision to promote her passion.

“Now I am a part of Odissi and Orissa.”

(Prashant K. Nanda can be contacted at

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