“I Owe Everything To India—Name, Fame And Recognition”
The name is Indian, the face is Western. But behind the face stands an Indian classical dancer in soul and spirit. Yes, we are talking about Devayani, who was born in France, but the love of classical dance brought her to India, which has been her abode for the past several years. However, in her early years, she was trained in Classical Ballet in Paris.
The Bharata Natyam dance sequence witnessed in the film Phantom India directed by Louis Malle left an indelible mark on her mind, motivating her to take plunge in the Indian classical dance. Later on, she got a scholarship under the Indo-French Cultural Exchange Programme to learn Bharata Natyam in India.
In her freewheeling interview to Uday India—Devayani said, “I owe everything to India—name, fame and recognition.”
This Bharata Natyam exponent’s odyssey is on. In spite of a very satisfying journey so far, her love for the ancient dance form is fabulous. She has been performing all across the states and making people aware of the great Indian dance form. In spite of a foreigner, the language has never been a barrier for her. She has taken her art to a new height. Recognising her contributions to the dance, she has been conferred with Padama Shri by the then President Pratibha Devisingh Patil. “I am the first foreign and French national bagging this award,” says she thanking the Government of India and the Indian people.
Devayani’s love for India goes back to several decades. She got her initial training under KG Ellapa Mudaliar and Kalaimamani VS Muthuswamy Pillai, both of whom recognised her as inborn talent required for music and dance.
Impressed with her great skill, film Director Srinivasan offered her a lead role in the film A Girl from America (America Ammayi). The film was a box office hit and Devayani became a cynosure of India, especially South.
From the very beginning, she was enchanted with art, music and poetry. She was inspired by the literature of different cultures, including French Romanticism. It was during her classical studies at the Lycee Rodin and in the The Sorbonne University that she understood the basics of Ballet, Western Classical Music and Bharata Natyam. Later, she studied Bharata Natyam in Paris under Amala Devi. She came to India on an Indo-French Cultural Exchange Programme Fellowship and was trained by G Ellappa Mudaliar.
After her initial training, she returned to Paris and taught Bharata Natyam to students of Sorbonne University. Soon, she returned to India for further training under Kalaimamani V S Muthuswamy Pillai. Meanwhile, she also learnt the nitty gritty of Kuchipudi from Vempati Chinna Satyam. It was during the period of her training that her love for India and its culture took her to the poetry of Tagore, Soordas, Kalidas, Omar Khayam and Djalal Udin Rumi.
Needless to say, wherever she had performed, the audiences were spell bound, leaving them mesmerised with her soulful rendering of the art. “It is the universal appeal of Bharta Natyam, weaving in its fabrics, poetry, literature, sculptural position with less choreography, making it the most complete art and dance form,” says the Bharata Natyam exponent.
For Devayani, art knows no frontiers, no national boundaries. “Art is a powerful medium of uniting people. Art encourages peace and harmony. It is the politicians who sow the seeds of dissensions in society,” she said. Art helps understanding the universe in a better way, that is what she feels. For her, art knows no boundaries. It is an instrument that makes life beautiful and helps people understand the universe in a better way.
Devayani has been in the forefront in promoting Bharata Natyam for the past several decades now. For her, it is her life and passion. “I have relentlessly contributed to its promotion and perpetuation internationally through my performances, residencies, workshops in the last three decades. The Padma Shri Award which was conferred on me on April 14, 2009 by the President of India is an acknowledgment of my contribution to the internationalisation of Bharata Natyam,” says the artiste with glee in her eyes.
Her dance journey is like the flow of a river. It appears she lives for it only. It is her passion, it’s her mission. “I plan to actively project the ancient temple dance art of Bharata Natyam in the best possible manner by selecting the venues/festivals which can highlight its intrisic beauty and majestic grandeur,” she says. The West has started showing more interest in Indian art and culture of late, thanks to the efforts of Pandit Ravi Shankar, who took the Indian music to new height and gave it a global platform. Indian art, music and culture have been a great hit among the foreigners. Artiste like Devayani can go a long way helping India showcase its art on the international arena. “The future of Bharata Natyam depends on talented artistes who can bridge the gap between the Western and the Eastern cultures. That’s what Pt. Ravi Shankar of whom I was a great admirer did. Bharata Natyam has won greater recognition in the last 20 years on the international scene,” she says.
The danseuse has been criss-crossing various states of the country. At times she finds the officials helpful, but many a time she has to encounter official apathy. So much so, sometimes, she loses her shows also.
The year 2004 has been a watershed in the life of the artiste. It was during the World Culture Open in Seoul, when she was selected to represent India in Traditional Indian Dance, in which 188 participants from 44 countries had taken part. It was thereafter she decided to make India her final home. Though dance is her life breath, she enjoys watching nice movies. “I love to see good movies directed by international top film directors, featuring the most talented actors of our time,” she adds.
By Rajesh Kumar Jha