The man in the painted mask
  • chha
  • If a prerequisite to great art is the artiste’s ability to mirror the spirit of his tradition, surroundings, training and time, then the much acclaimed Chhau dancer and guru Shashadhar Acharya has fulfilled the requirements — a virtuoso of not only his very own Seraikella style but others as well. The remarkable Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee (2004) inherited the art from his father, the late Guru Lingaraj Acharya, and later acquired the differing perspectives of the various schools of Seraikella Chhau from Gurus Natashekhar, Kedarnath Sahoo, B.B. Patnaik, Padma Shri S.N. Singh Deo, and Bikram Kumbhakar. Contributing significantly to the evolution and development of Chhau, the exemplary dancer knows how to give distinction to his art through teaching, research and performance.

    And this elemental, full-bodied pulse with his firm leg extensions and sweep, lyrical yet powerful execution embellished with intense refinements of his style, was realised at the opening performance “Ratri” of the just concluded National Chhau Dance Festival in Bhubaneswar. Teaching at various institutions apart from his own Acharya Chhau Nrutya Bichitra, New Delhi, and the Triveni Kala Sangam, Shashadhar also heads a project funded by the Sangeet Natak Akademi to train, create and perform Chhau dance. In an interview he speaks of his legacy and art. Excerpts:

    You come from a family of traditional performers…

    I am the fifth generation of a family involved in this traditional art. In childhood when I used to learn from my father I never thought I would ever be a professional dancer. I pursued this art alongside my studies, even with different gurus .One thing I still cherish is the way I got to see the art at home and the large number of wonderful songs of Chhau that I used to hear from my father, which I can relate with life and the Chhau that I practise today. Secondly, even though I learnt from different gurus, I never imagined I would come into this line. But circumstances forced me to do so. I did my graduation and had studied Law; I am a criminal lawyer. I had practised for a year with the Government and was in three jobs — two with the Central Government and one with the State Government — but I never liked them at all! I only love to dance. So I dance!

    How did you begin?

    At home. Pitaji used to teach, the way my grandfather, great-grandfather did, and we got to see that at home. Today you have seen my son Subham perform as “Chandrama” with me. Even he sees dancing at home and, like me, started dancing by observing, and I am very happy about it. I never told him to come and learn. He came of his own accord. So


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