Interview with Lucrezia Maniscotti

Lucrezia is a performing artist, drama teacher and scholar based in Italy. She has been learning Bharatanatyam for the past 9 years in Italy under Ms. Monica Gallarate and occasionally with Smt. Maresa Moglia, both students of late Smt. Krishnaveni Lakshmanan. Since 2006, she is undergoing intense training under the sage guidance of Padmasree Adyar K.Lakshman at Bharatha Choodamani in Chennai, with whom she graduating presenting her debut performance at Kapalishwara Temple, Mylapore Chennai. She is also learning Carnatic vocal and nattuvangam under Bhagavatulu Seetarama Sharma and abhinaya from Smt. Indira Kadambi.

Interview with Lucrezia ManiscottiHer passion for Indian culture motivated her to complete the MA in Indology from the University of Milan where she presented a dissertation on Indian Classical Theatre. On graduating, Lucrezia was awarded a prestigious scholarship by the University of Milan for pursuing one year of advanced studies in Bharatanatyam in India. Recently she was invited by her Mohini Attam teacher, Kalaimamani Gopika Varma, to present a solo performance at Dasyam festival during the Chennai season at RK Swamy Auditorium. She is one of the founder of the association Sagome Teatro where she is trying to promote Indian classical performing arts in Italy. Recently she is also perfoming with “Milon”, presenting concerts with music and dance from bengoli tradition and she is choreographer and dancer in “Denis Stern Project” a world music group with refined musician (tabla, guitar, bass).

We had an email interview with Lucrezia

Q1. Tell us something about your childhood, how you got attracted to dance?

When I was 6 years old, I wanted to join some western classical ballet class, but I couldn’t because that time in my city was really too expensive…but I was fascinated by dance. Then at 15, I started studying drama (I’m still working as drama teacher and actress), and from there I can say I derived my basic knolwdge of the performance.

Q2. How you picked up Indian classical dance as your forte, what was the main factor that made you pick up Bharatanatayam?

At 17, I started collaborating with an Indian cultural center who was in Milan, where I had the opportunity to see many and many programs on Indian classical dances and music..I was so impressed that then at university first I took sanskrit then idology. I’m graduated (MA) at University of Milan in Indology with a dissertation on Mahabharata and performing arts. So I decided that I had to learn and I started in Italy with an Italian teacher then I joined my guru in India. I don’t know why I choose Bharata Natyam, then I tried Kathakali and Mohiniattam (I’m studying Mohini With Smt Gopika Varma) but Bharatanatyam touched something inside: this combination of nritya really sharp and the abhinaya sections, I don’t know, I feel comfortable in it..then I have such a great guru…

Q3. Tell us about your training, how rigorous was it and how you liked it?

At the beginning in Italy was difficult; only once or twice a week was not enough. Then I started my trip to India. I went to Padmashree Adyar K Lakshman and he accepted me as a student. But still was not enough. Finally, I got from my university a scholarship to study one year in India. So I studied really deeply, daily, no Sundays, for one wonderful year. At the end of that, I had my debut perfomance at Kapaliswara Temple in Chennai.

I studied daily also Nattuvangam and music class from Bhagavatulu Seetharama Sharma and abhinaya from Smt Indira Kadambi.

Q4. As a student of this art form but hailing from different country, what difficulties did you face? At the same time, what special moments you enjoyed?

lm_thumb_0003The classical art forms are difficult for everybody, of course, at the beginning, especially abhinaya was not in my culture. But compared to other foreigners I was fortunate: first because in that Indian Classical Center, I grew up as an Indian girl, so I knew all the stories, the mythology, the daily tirual (puja and so on) and I was eating Indian food daily (now I can cook only indian!); then I was fortunate because the drama training on body and on open mind gave me the possibility of learning faster… So I can’t say I had special difficulties, except for time and teacher, because in Italy there are no Indians guru and there’s no dance environment: this is the only missing thing. I can say there are some prejudice from somebody..anyways, one of my most satisfaction was when my guru Lakshman Sir start talking with me in Tamil (I can understand it) totally forgetting I’m foreigner and he started making me teach in his school. Then, He did also vocal and Nattuvanar for my programs! So, the most enjoyed moment was when I got treated as an Indian dancer.

Q5. Did your family and friends support your decision to pick this dance form?

Definitely, my husband is musician too, so he gave me lots of support! My friends of course gave me too..and some of them are Indian art rasika or students…

Q6. Tell us about the response of audience in your country and your concerts elsewhere.

In my country, it is in one way easier; nobody knows deeply the dance form..This made me sad because I saw performer who use this ignorance to have easy success and money but without deep knoledge of the art.

Anyways, most people think it is interesting, but too difficult and too far from the their culture, but then it depends on how do you present the program. For example, with my first Italian teacher Monica, we used to present thematic programs where before the items she told the story of the myth showing the main gestures so that when they see the item they could follow it. This is very useful here. Our “duo” name is “AGAMA”. Then, in some places, when there are the Indian community, for me it’s lovely, because I can share with them, I feel myself half Indian..

Q7. Tell us about your practice schedule and how you pick up a theme for a particular show.

I try to practice daily, even when I teach I always do something with my students. For the programs, it depends; if it is a classical margam, I try to understand the situation in which I’ll perform, for which occasion and so on.. Sometimes, I have some requests for some really particular situation, like next month I have to perfom for an international 0rganization for human refugees, so I’m trying to choreograph some items special for them, and this work take lots of time, but is very interesting!

Q8. Have you visited India? How has been the experience?

As I said I also lived in India. Otherwise it is impossible to learn classical form of dance!

I came at least 5 times and I also had some short tour in Kerala, Karnataka and of course the lovely Tamil Nadu, that I know quite well. I love India, I can’t explain why; I feel at home; I love the food (being vegetarian discover south Indian food was a mystic experience!), then temples, dress, and people!!!! As my guru said there’s only one explanation for your love for India: your previous life!

Q9. What impact this dance form has on you as a person and how it helps you bring closer to a totally different culture?

The impact was so strong, I couldn’t think and still I cannot think about something else: everyday I’m thinking of that. The hard work on body in reality has pressed me to work on my self, and the practical difficulties (a part from my husband and some rasika, here nobody could understand my extreme love and pain to get into this art form, and then the need to go to India often and once there maybe I had only one month where concentrate all the work..), once I had also the dengue fever so for more than one month I had serious problems, but all this things made me understand how deep is the love for this country and for this art that obviously I feel my special art form… Now I have lost even the interest to act in drama, I love only to dance Indian classical.

I can also add that when you approach a different culture, it’s very useful because it helps you in understanding yourself and your own culture. For that reason, everybody should travel and without judgment, discover (at different levels) other cultures.

Q10. Any message for young dancers who want to pursue Bharatnatayam but hail from different countries?

Be patient but really continue in studies; if there’s no class, work by yourself, and work even on the lyrical, epical context. This is a very old art form and one must never forget it, especially coming from other countries. But to Indians too, I would like to suggest not to take it easy because you are Indian, don’t take it for granted.

Thanks Ambalam! for sharing this!

6