Blue-Eyed Girl

Bharatanatyam exponent Sucheta Bhide Chapekar has spent 50 years educating people in India and abroad about the dance form

Written by Debjani Paul | Published: June 15, 2013 5:21:51 am

I’m not really comfortable speaking,” said Sucheta Bhide Chapekar,as she stood up. She kept her gaze low as she straightened her sari — a beautiful Robin egg-blue one that set off her startling blue-grey eyes. That done,a twinkle came to her eyes and she said,“I have completed 50 years of dancing.”

Bharatanatyam exponent Chapekar performed her arangetram in 1963,when she was all of 15. Ever since,she has performed hundreds of times,sometimes for local concerts,and at other times,for curious international audiences in Europe,Australia and the US. “It all happened because of JRD (Tata). He used to like my performances and called me ‘the blue-eyed beauty’. One day,he asked me if I had performed abroad and when I said no,he said Air India would provide us with tickets for a performing tour to Europe,” she said.

That is how,in 1982,Chapekar flew to Europe and performed in London,Paris,Rotterdam and several other cities. Decades after her tour,she still maintains her European connection with six French disciples. “A jewellery designer saw me perform that year and wanted to learn. Through her,so many others came to me. They now perform and teach,” said Chapekar,who will celebrate her 50th year of dancing with a staging of Nritya Ganga on June 20.

With her successes abroad,Chapekar decided it was time to do something closer home,in Maharashtra. She went from one small town to another,explaining the concept and technique of the performance in Marathi so that the audience could follow it better. Her Maharashtra tour gave her several funny anecdotes such as the time she performed at Pali,near Mumbai-Goa highway. “The audience thought I was going to perform a lavani. So they asked me whether I was alone,because lavani requires many dancers on the stage. Everyone was silent through the performance and didn’t clap until I told them it was over,” said Chapekar.

Realising that Bharatanatyam had not managed to find a following within Maharashtra,she began to research how she could introduce Marathi and Hindi songs to the dance form,instead of the conventional Tamil,Telugu and Kannada songs. “Later,I realised that even the music can be changed to Hindustani classical,” she said. This led to the conception Nritya Ganga,a Bharatanatyam concert with 80 compositions in Hindustani classical music,performed in Hindi,Marathi and Sanskrit.

The beginnings of this project happened in Pune and Mumbai,where the first few performances took place between 1982 and 1988. More than three decades after her first experiment with Nritya Ganga,Chapekar has passed on the legacy to her daughter Arundhati Patwardhan,who will perform with her in the city.

Sucheta Bhide Chapekar will perform Nritya Ganga on June 20 at Yashwantrao Chavan Natyagruha,6pm onwards

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