The Art of Leela Samson
by Nirmala Iswari
(Leela Samson is a noted Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher, and choreographer. A former student of Kalakshetra, she took over as Director of the institution in 2005.)
“The classical arts have always been traditionally exclusive. I think our contribution in our time has been to demystify them,” Leela Samson, the current director of the Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai, says in her recent interview with NDTV.[i] Samson understands that exclusivity of knowledge doesn’t go a long way towards preserving an art form; it may be done instead by making such knowledge accessible to anyone who wishes to learn, by passing it on. Regard for classical arts shouldn’t deter students and discourage them from learning.
Like so many of us, Leela Samson belongs to multiple communities and geographies; a fact that seems to have sensitized her to the need for understanding and tolerance in her engagements with people, work, and art. “(W)e can touch each other without infringing upon each other’s natures, or points of view,” she asserts in an interview with Frontline.[ii] Her commitment to Kalakshetra and Bharatanatyam appears rooted in this conviction. “I don’t want (Kalakshetra) to be a forbidding place,” she says, “Kalakshetra should be larger than itself in its spirit, in its heart.”
Writing in Outlookmagazine, Samson recalls learning to dance and living in Kalakshetra in Adyar, attending a sabha in Mylapore, visiting Kalanjiam Brothers in Parrys Corner for her dance jewellery, and attending the annual utsavam around the Mylapore tank.[iii] She has lived in various cities, but, she writes, “it is Madras that I feel attached to in ways beyond explanation; to energies that I cannot identify in words, to a spirit of other lives, perhaps. How else can I explain the connections I have made here?”
But no explanation seems necessary. She has, one thinks, given to the city as much as the city has given her.