The French Artist Who Loves Kerala Culture

Nov 01, 2016 | Vol 8 Issue 5
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The Mohiniyattam danseuse and choreographer, Brigitte Chataignier completes thirty years of her association with Kerala.

The Mohiniyattam danseuse and choreographer, Brigitte Chataignier completes thirty years of her association with Kerala. It was in 1986 the French dancer Brigitte Chataignier came to know about Mohiniyattam, the traditional classical dance of Kerala.

She studied the dance form for seven years in Kerala under the guidance of Gurus notably, Kalamandalam Leelamma of Kerala Kalamandalam, Padmashri Kalamandalam Kshemavathy and Smt. Sridevi Rajan (Kalyana Krishna Foundation). She had also pursued research in her discourses with eminent scholars and teachers like Nirmala Panikar, K N Pannikar and C P Unnikrishnan.

Brigitte was originally trained in classical and contemporary dance forms. During her studies at Kalamandalam, she came to know about 'Kalyanikutty Amma style' of Mohiniyattam and later imbibed this dancing language from Sreedevi Rajan, daughter of Kalyanikutty Amma. The beauty of these two styles were blended and portrayed in her documentary film on Mohiniyattam titled 'The Dance of Enchantress' (2007) that was produced in France, co-directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Brigitte.

In 1995, Brigitte Chataignier along with her husband Michel Lestrehan, a reputed artist in Kathakali and Kalarippayattu, founded the Compagnie Prana ( at Rennes in France.  Her approach combines tradition and modernity, and includes research on the conservation of a cultural heritage, as well as new productions. Compagnie Prana organizes tours of contemporary and Kerala classical arts and occasionally invites Indian masters. 

 'Gopika', is one of her productions based on Mohiniyattam and Kaikottikkali and was staged in France in 2007 with a team of artists from Kerala. Another creation on Indian subject, 'Ganga', brought together the themes of water and femininity, (2011 in France, 2013 Bonjour India Tour).

'Bhopal Blue' is her recent choreographic work on a contemporary Indian subject based on the industrial catastrophe, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984. This production with two dancers- Brigitte and her daughter Djeya Lestrehan, an actor and a musician was staged in France in December 2015. It is touring at Theatre Du Soleil, Paris (in association with CDC Atelier de Paris and Arta) from Nov 18- Dec 04 2016 during Festival Namaste France 2016. According to her this production blending dance, text from Zeno Bianu and music by Carol Robinson is a kind of ritual purification and highlights the return of India from hell, alive, vibrant, rebellious and more spiritual than ever.  Brigitte says, “The blue is the blue of the night, the blue of pain, the blue of the poison of Lord Shiva, and there are many sides to the blue, blue gives softness to Bhopal. Tragedy is everywhere in life. We have the power to change, survive that”.

Brigitte spends her time between Kerala and France and performs both classical Mohiniyattam and contemporary styles. She is an empanelled artist for Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

“Even though the performances are a kind of devotion, spectators are important, whoever is in front. The dancer is a path between the knowledge, the art form, the figure, the mythology, the Gods, and the audience”, says this Mohiniyattam exponent from France.

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