Devayani, Bharat Natyam Dancer,India "

It was when I was reading The Green Ballerina Shoes of the Red and Gold collection that I fell in love with dance. I was five years old. The reproductions of the graceful ballerinas painted by Degas scattered around the book captured my imagination. It was like love at first sight for this Art form and for the footlights which animated in a such vibrant manner the faces of the dancers painted by the French impressionist.

A few years later, in my early teens, I started attending classical music and dance classes in a Paris conservatory with the money I earned from teaching English to the baker's daughter and her friend. I was only eleven.

The years passed by. As per the French tradition in bourgeois families, I went through the scholar cursus with Latin as the main subject at Lycee Rodin and even further, with Greek at Lycee Claude Monet, a renowned college in Paris. My passion for Art and for Dance, continued to grow.

Came the counter culture movement and... Ravi Shankar. I would spend hours listening to his records and was so enthralled that I created my first dance drama production around his music. Based on his sitar performance with the Beatles, I requested Milena Salveni to choreograph the Radha and Krishna's story for me. Milena Salvini was later to open the Mandapa, the first centre of Indian Dance and Culture in Paris.

Devayani, Bharat Natyam Dancer,India"One day, as I attended in the Paris Odeon Theatre, 'La Tentation de Saint Antoine' a play after the novel by Gustave Flaubert, choreographed by Maurice Bejart, who drew his inspiration from Hindu philosophy and was the most loved choreographer of the time, I told myself I was right to believe in what the author Antonin Artaud was naming L's Art total. This belief led me to create another dance drama which was selected for the International Festival of Drama and Poetics in Brussels and awarded the first prize in Research Theatre.

On my return from Brussels to Paris I saw Calcutta, a film by Louis Malle. I then decided : One day, I will go to India. A few months later, at the film archives theatre of Palais de Chaillot, I saw another film by Louis Malle Phantom India. The captivating dance sequence at the school of Kalakshetra near Madras by the famous French film director sent the revelation of Bharata Natyam through me. Soon after, as I was going to a modern ballet class, I discovered that Amala Devi was conducting Bharata Natyam classes in the same dance studio centre. I immediately joined these classes. Subsequently I applied for a scholarship. The award of this scholarship enabled me to realize my goal of discovering and learning a composite dance form which at the same time is : movement, rhythm, mime, sculpture, thought, expression of love and expression of the soul.

Whilst I was learning with Malavika, my second teacher, the news came : the Indo French Cultural Exchange Programme scholarship had been granted to me. I touched the Indian soil on Mahasivaratri, day anniversary celebrating Shiva's birth. Soon after my arrival, I understood how particularly auspicious it was to arrive on such a day for an aspiring dancer as Shiva according to Hindu mythology is the Lord of Dance.

Was it just coincidence that during the years spent in Madras I was granted tutelage of the grand masters of the Bharata Natyam tradition : Kancheepuram Ellapa Mudaliar, V.S. Muthuswamy Pillai, Kalanidhi Narayanan in abhinaya, Kumari Swarnamukhi in Karanas (sculptural dance poses carved on the South Indian temples), Vempati Chinna Satyam in Kuchipudi style, Dr. Balamurali Krishna in vocal carnatic music?

I was then, selected to be the heroine of a Telugu film "America Ammayi", "A girl from America" in which I acted, sang and danced. The success I achieved in this film made me famous overnight in the whole of South India. Soon after, I performed my Arangetram (official debut) at Rasika Ranjani Sabha, a reputed venue in Madras before a distinguished audience comprising of celebrated dancers, musicians and the media. From that time on I was recognised as a Bharata Natyam dancer. During the next two years in India and back to Europe, I danced and danced.....
But soon the urge came to me to go back to my guru. Unfortunately I found him very ill and I could no longer avail his guidance. That is why I left Madras for Delhi.

Devayani, Bharat Natyam Dancer,India"

I soon gathered a group of musicians under the musical direction of the eminent guru V. Sadasivam, the Nattuvanar with a magical and scintillating rhythm who had been conducting the orchestra of the prima ballerina Yamini Krishnamurti. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations sent me on a tour to Germany on the occasion of India's Republic Day Celebrations. Following this tour, my performances attracted the attention of eminent art critics.

In the eighties, during the Gandhian Renaissance period of the Indian Cultural Heritage, I danced across the width and breadth of the country performing Bharata Natyam in all major cities and towns, the whole of Madhya Pradesh alongwith the master conductor of my orchestra, guru V. Sadasivam and other members including the soulful singer T.G. Mahalingam. Those days will remain unforgettable. So will my performances on some prestigious world stages in the West : The Purcell Room, The Queen Elizabeth Hall and theatres at The World's largest Arts Festival, the International Edinburgh Festival in particular, amongst so many other venues on the international scene. These performances contributed to the international recognition of my talent.

In 1990, I was selected by the Arts Council of Great Britain as the First Asian Dancer Artist in Residence to promote Indian Dance and Culture in U.K. The untimely demise of my Guru, whilst I was away from India, created a great void.

The nineties saw me spending considerable time in the West promoting Indian Dance and Culture through my performances both on stage and television in all the European and Scandinavian countries including Estonia and Greece. At the invitation of the Ministry of Culture of Estonia, I performed at the at the Opera House of Tallinn, "Eesti Concert Hall", a show created by me namely, "Like a Goddess" which had earlier received from the British Press a Four Star (****) ranking at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was a great moment in my career as it brought me close to an audience so attuned to Classical Art in a hall upported by majestic columns and lit by imposing chandeliers. The most exciting moment arrived when in Portugal as I was invited to participate in the XXIV Algarve International Music Festival in May 2000, I discovered I was given top billings alongwith the maestro of opera singing, Luciano Pavarotti and the star of the Kirov Opera, Olga Borodina.

I am beholden to my teacher of Sri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, Justin Mac Carthy who through his training with the unmatched vigour and discipline of the Kalakshetra School of Dance added a new dimension to my style, the real classical touch. Later, I studied further with Dr. Yamini Krishnamurti, the legendary ballerina of India, the refinements of this art. It was the training with Yamini which contributed immensely in achieving a level of excellence I aspired for.

The stage is communication : the Artist turns the stage into his own world and shares it. A miracle takes place : the spectator through identification reaches oblivion. I believe in this very special moment of communion. The problem of being French and not Indian never arises in my mind. I do not try to be. I am, having found my roots in this form of Art and its complex and intricate grammar which strikes a chord in my soul.

A mystery? A success? Yes, the success of Bharata Natyam, the magic of a universal form of Art which I hope to share not only with an audience of connoisseurs but with wider audiences, the ones I love. The ones which made the actor Klaus Kinski say in the film "The important thing is to love": The audiences they come, they go, they do not know what they are searching, them you can seize, you can stir, because not knowing it, they come to be moved.

Devayani, Bharat Natyam Dancer,India"