An Argentine woman who started as a ballet dancer and later learnt Bharatnatyam, Odissi and Kuchipudi from great masters has not only dedicated 50 years of her life to Indian classical dance but has also become an Indian in form and spirit.
Myrta Barvie is an icon in South America. She has had an illustrious career as a dancer, teacher, choreographer and writer.
She has not only mastered Indian dances but has also become an Indian in spirit as well as her personal life, says R. Viswanathan, Ambassador of India to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Myrta Barvie says she had two dreams — first to become a dancer and second to know India, ‘the land of ancient culture and spiritual wisdom’. She is now happy that both her dreams have come true.
Myrta Barvie has learnt Sanskrit and read the works of Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharishi and Yogananda, among others. She is a vegetarian, avoids alcohol, and leads a ‘disciplined Indian life’ in Buenos Aires.
On being asked what inspired her to the world of Indian classical dances, she said: ‘It is the Indian karma. I was 17 years old when I was introduced to the legendary Rukmini Devi who visited Argentina on a theosophical mission. I was inspired by her. I realised instantly that India was my karma. I was so thrilled when Rukmini Devi offered me a scholarship to study in Kalakshetra. I jumped up at the offer and was on the next flight to Chennai. Oh! how the time has passed… It is 50 years.’
Viswanathan says she has been successful in enforcing ‘with an iron hand’ strict discipline among her young Argentine students too.
Myrta Barvie is very particular about maintaining the purity and sanctity of the traditions of the classical dances of India.
Her disciples Natalia, Silvia, Indira and Leonara have become teachers and established their own schools. There are over 30 Argentines currently learning Indian classical dances in Buenos Aires.
After learning ballet from the age of eight, Myrta Barvie became a professional dancer in a ballet group of the Colon Theater in Argentina. She later visited Chennai — then Madras — at the offer of Rukmini Devi and trained there in Bharatanatyam.
She learnt Odissi from Kelucharan Mohapatra and got a Nritya Visharad degree from the Kala Vikash Kendra in Orissa. She even went on to learn Kuchipudi at the Kuchipudi Art Academy in Chennai from Vempati Chinnasatyam.
Myrta Barvie has performed Indian classical dances in Argentina and all over the world, including other Latin American countries as well as in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
In India, she has performed in the palace of the erstwhile maharaja of Baroda and at Rashtrapati Bhavan where she was received by presidents Radhakrishnan, Zakir Hussain and Zail Singh.
She has written a book in Spanish on Indian classical dances, published by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) in 1996.
Myrta Barvie said she gets nostalgic about the aroma of jasmine flowers and south Indian filter coffee and the sound of Sanskrit hymns. ‘My relationship with India has always been special. My long stay in India had been beautiful, interesting and profound,’ she writes in her book.