An Interview with Silvia Vona, an Odissi Dancer

Classical Dance has always been the best form of art in Indian culture. Be it Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Manipuri, or Odissi all these dance forms have their own language of devotion and love. But it is amazing to know how Silvia, a resident of Rome, Italy has fallen in love with our culture and trained herself to be an Odissi Dancer.

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1. How long have you been dancing?

Silvia: I have been learning dance and been involved with performing arts since my childhood. I decided to learn dance when I saw my two cousins dancing at the “Scuola di danza Filomarino” programme in Rome. From that time I felt that I must dance.

2. What got you into classical dancing?

Silvia: The reason why I approached the Indian classical dance was the curiosity and the desire to discover a dance from another culture. In the 2007 while I was studying contemporary dance, collaborating with the company “Teatro Instabile di Aosta” experimenting theatre, contemporary dance and gestural theatre I enrolled at “La Sapienza” University of Rome in the Department of Oriental Languages and Cultures (specialization in Indian culture, history and languages) and also I started to study a little bit of Bharatnatyam and Dasi Attam with the scholar Tiziana Leucci. I wanted to do something completely different from what I had done before in order to discover new paths for both artistic and personal growth. The Indian classical dance was a real revelation: the rhythm, the use of the eyes, the use of the hand gesture, the emotional involvement thanks to the awesome repertoire’s pieces, but also from a totally different technique, so connected with the nature, history, sculpture, society.  In 2008 I won a scholarship with “La Sapienza” University of Rome for studying six months in Jadavpur University, Kolkata.

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3. How did you get started?

Silvia: After I got the scholarship I began my quest to find an Odissi Guru. Thanks to the scholar Tiziana Leucci who suggested me to start learning Odissi. This time I was not only looking for a dance to practise and a personal enrichment, but mostly I was looking for a teacher (a Guru). I wanted to experience the relation between Guru and shishya, that does not only consist of “dance classes” but in a life condition linked to all its various aspects like eat and sleep together, discuss, etc. Since December 2008 till now I’m under  the guidance of Smt. Rina Jana, one of the senior disciplines of Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra. Finally for the academic year 2014/2015 I have been awarded the prestigious ICCR scholarship for studying under her.

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When I started to learn Odissi, it was because I wanted to learn movements, a new way to express and understand myself, the others and involve it in my contemporary dance and theatre work. I did not know India would become my second home. Nevertheless, since the beginning I have fully entrusted my guru with dedication, discipline and humility, growing together like in a relation between a mother and her daughter.

4. Which classical dancer(s) inspire you?

Silvia: So many Indian classical dancers inspire me from the field of Odissi and as well as from the other Indian classical fields. For Odissi Guru Kelucharan, Mahapatra, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Kumkum Mohanti, Minati Misra, Sharon Lowen, Devi Basu. And of course my Guru. Other Dancers who inspires me are Birju Maharaj, Raja and Radha Reddy, Sitara Devi, Vyjayanthi Kashi, Shantala Shivalingappa, Alarmel Valli, Leela Samson and so on. 🙂

5. What do you like about classical dance specially Odissi?

Silvia: I just fell in love with Odissi. As I have said before, for me the Indian classical dance specially Odissi was a real revelation. The use of eyes, body movements, hand gesture for narrating a story, describing a God or a mythological event, a sentiment in such an accurate and refine way, the relation between the music and dance that is so important.  The link to the rhythm, allow me to be more focused, conscious and to shape and direct my perception and also the audience one. This is a complete art form where history, art, music, theatre, dance, sculpture, philosophy, literature are united together. I like to study and perform above all the Abhinayas because in this moment I can deeply feel and interiorise the different aspects of different feelings.

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6. How is Odissi different from other classical dance forms and why did you choose Odissi?

Silvia: One interesting thing about this art form is the uses of the feet as a percussion emphasizing the rhythm and music, while the upper part of the body moves on a circular plan with fluid movements of the arms, head , neck and eyes, which is also in close relation with the music. For me Odissi is a wonderful gift.

7. How does dancing inspire you?

Silvia: I practise every day, so dance is like breathing to me. Dance is my life. As the daily life and nature inspires me, dance also inspires me. It’s my medium of expression, the interpretation of life, pathos. Dancing is life, and life is a dance.

8. What is most challenging about what you do?

Silvia: Every day and everything is a challenge for me. From the very  beginning Odissi dance was a challenge for me: a different use of the body, an accurate technique, the interiorization of rhythm and music, the understanding of Indian daily life, society, food habit, Indian mythology and philosophy  because Odissi is deeply rooted and connected with the Oriya and Indian culture.

9. What is most rewarding to you?

Silvia: For me one of the most rewarding things is to study this art form in-depth. When I perform I am able to convey my emotions and feelings to the audience which is the best thing that can happen.

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10. Any special moment or memorable experience in your dancing career till date that you would like to share with us?

Silvia: I would like to share two memorable incidents. The first one is of course my first solo performance. My Guru dressed me up because I didn’t know how to do it. I felt so much weight all over the body in full dress, it was a strange sensation but also very gratifying. It was a powerful and unforgettable experience.  Another special moment was in Mahagami Festival when a girl after my performance came to me and said: “I really appreciate your dance, your abhinaya. On the stage in full dress and make up you look like an Indian except for your skin colour”. I always remember where I came from, my tradition, my mother land but I’m also happy that I could pick up this art form, because dance is without borders and limitations. In Mahagami festival I had a wonderful experience in all the aspects.

11. Do you learn any other styles of classical dance or not? If not, would you like to try any other style?

Silvia: For now I’m only practising Odissi and sometimes I also practise contemporary dance. I’m not practising other indian classical dance form but in another life maybe I would like to study Kuchipudi and Sattriya. I love these two styles 🙂

12. What are your goals or dreams for the future?

Silvia: My dream is to continue the study of Odissi dance, to dance and research about dance. I would like to try to spread Odissi dance especially in Italy, where it is not so well-known. I would like also to organise events, workshops, festivals on Indian classical dance, especially on Odissi with my Guru Rina Jana and other eminent dancers. In my dream, there is also a contemporary dance production about Indian and Greek mythology with live music.

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13. What advice would you offer someone considering this career i.e. classical dance?

Silvia: Be open-minded, curious as a child and greedy for knowledge. Be humble and honest to yourself and others. Listen, follow and trust the Guru. Work hard every day and when you become a skilled and professional dancer try to search for good programme with the right remuneration. But most important, love what you do.

14. Anything that you want to share or tell our readers?

Silvia: I wish the readers to have the opportunity to witness the magic of this art form through classes, workshops or a tour in Orissa. Try to get involved with its rhythm and statuesque movements, philosophy and devotion.

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