Chitra Sundaram, an independent artiste, trainer, dramaturge, workshop leader and a mentor to upcoming and established professionals recently received the ‘Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’, an award equivalent to the Padma Shri. She has been given this honour for her contribution towards the development, success and growth of South Asian dance forms.
In an interview with Metrolife, Chitra Sundaram talks about what this honour means to her and her journey with art.
What was your reaction on receiving news of the award?
I don’t recall any heightened emotion except the excitement of deciding, entirely on a sudden whim, to keep the intimation and award a secret till it was publicly announced. In fact, I didn’t even tell my husband till he wondered loudly on New Year’s Day or maybe it was December why I was getting so many calls and messages, and why I was taking them privately. Finally, I relented and told him, and he of course, broadcast it to our daughters in the UK and US, and then it went on Instagram. Meanwhile, friends and peers in the UK and elsewhere started posting on Facebook etc… and as the messages poured in I was beginning to feel the joy of the achievement.
Do you feel a greater sense of responsibility now?
I am pleased by the recognition, and even more, I am truly chuffed how it further adds three awardees to the already significant number of these honours given in recent times to artists and art leaders in South Asian Dance in Britain, whether classical or contemporary. This speaks of the visible recognition of the South Asian dance sector, as an indivisible part of British dance and culture.
How did you get drawn towards art and dance?
My mother put me in dance as a young girl– without telling my grandmother, her mother-in-law, as dancing was still a no-no for conservative orthodox folk, even in Bombay.
Tell us about yourself..
I was born and raised in India and educated in Bombay University and have an MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad. I gave up a corporate career in banking and went back to work in the field of dance as a teacher, independent performer and researcher. I have lived in several countries and now live in London for over two decades. I identify as a performing artist, trainer, dramaturge and choreographer. I work as a lecturer in Goldsmiths College, University of London and teach on the MA World Theatres and MA Performance Making programmes for a number of years. I work with professional dancers, helping them flesh out ideas and ways of bringing them onto the stage and audience. I also do workshops in Abhinaya and expressive techniques.
What are your experiences with Bharatanatyam?
I trained traditionally with masters, and unusually, from more than one school or bāni. It has served well to shape my approach to movement, and to finding a certain integrity in the form-content nexus or symbiosis. I have therefore created ‘experimental’ work – especially in my form-content journey – that speaks to these questions. One of them, which received public and critical accolades in the major dance festivals in Chennai Season, was actually premiered at the Tamil Sangam in Bengaluru, where they awarded me a title of ‘Natya Oli’. So, yes, it speaks about my wanting to continue to shine a light, for so much becomes visible as we train our eyes to properly see and relish.
What’s next in line?
In terms of new projects, I am looking into some traditional practices dealing with mourning. Whether it will evolve into a dance work, I don’t know yet. There are also a couple of things in the works for the courses I teach and for some professional dancers I will continue to mentor.