Joins earth to sky
Leela received the impulses for her growth as a dancer from Kalakshetra, Chennai, where she was a student initially from 1961 to 1967, while also studying in the Besant Theosophical High School. She was awarded a first class Diploma and a Distinction in the Post Graduation course and became a part of the repertory company that travelled in India and abroad.
From 1975 to 2005 she taught at the Sriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra and privately in Delhi, and choreographed a body of work called ‘Spanda’ known for its innovations in bharata natyam. It is now twenty years since its inception and Spanda continues to enthrall audiences with its innovativeness in tradition.
As a solo dancer, Leela’s seemingly understated delineation conceals an inspired inner source. She is a virtuoso performer and a sensitive interpreter of the nuances of this form. She enjoys the reputation of being a dancer who has excellent form in nritta and sensitive abhinaya. Leela has travelled extensively and performed at leading festivals of dance in India and abroad.
Leela was Director, Kalakshetra from 2005 to 2012. She brought back an integrity and dynamism in teaching and performance and a widening of the academic scope of the dancer graduating from its portals, besides initiating several publications, films and documentation of the founder’s dance dramas. The computerization of the campus was initiated and completed in her time and the centralization of accounts between the many institutions under its banner. The Padma Pushkarini was conceived and executed by her in an attempt to revive the water bodies in the institute.
Two documentary films have been made on her – ‘Sanchari’ by Arun Khopkar and ‘The Flowering Tree’ by Ein Lall.
Leela has written a few books – ‘Rhythm in Joy’ for Lustre Press in 1987, on the classical dance forms of India, ‘Rukmini Devi – a life’ published by Penguin Viking in 2010, on the life of the legendary founder of Kalakshetra.
Leela is the recipient of the Sanskriti Award in 1982, the Padmashri Award in 1990, the Nritya Choodamani Award in 1997, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2000 and the Natya Kala Acharya Award from the Music Academy, Chennai in 2015.
From August 2010 to September 2014 she served as Chairperson, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi.
From mid 2011 to early 2015, Leela served as Chairperson, Central Board of Film Certification.
Leela performs solo and also travels with the Spanda Dance Company for shows in India and abroad. It is what she loves best – to dance, to teach, to understand better the relationship between the lyrics, music and expression of the individual dancer and the socio-political forces amidst which an artiste practices her art.