SPACES is a Registered Trust, set up by late dancer/choreographer Chandralekha, the late artist/designer Dashrath Patel and writer and photographer Sadanand Menon. It was born of a vision Chandralekha had for creating alternate artistic and human spaces in the city. Initially a barren stretch of sandy soil, much effort has been invested in greening the place and making it hospitable for birds and insects on the one hand and the arts on the other. Chandra wrote:
“I want this space to be put on the map of the world as —
Sun and Moon Space
Sea and Sky Space”
“I am envisioning this space for artists, performers, dancers, singers. I am envisioning them in scale – in human scale against the elemental scale of the sea and the sky”
The performance spaces they jointly created at the Elliot’s Beach in Besant Nagar has today become a flourishing venue for experimental work in Chennai and is used by a wide variety of artists, activists, students, educators, etc. It also houses a popular Kalarippayattu class which is conducted by Shaji K John, who has been a part of Chandralekha’s choreographic works since 1986 and is a student of the renowned teacher E P Vasudevan Gurukkal.
One of the primary initiators of what is today categorized as ‘contemporary Indian dance’, Chandralekha (1928-2006) learnt Bharatanatyam with Kancheepuram Ellappa Pillai and after a flourishing career as a soloist in the decade of the fifties withdrew from performance for over two decades. When she returned on stage in 1985 with her new choreography Angika, it was to change the face of Indian contemporary dance forever. Her ten full-length productions in the subsequent two decades integrating elements from diverse Indian physical traditions including Kalarippayattu and Yoga and exploring a provocatively abstract content gave new identity to dance from India and were presented at some of the most prestigious venues in India and abroad. Her work remains the yardstick by which ndian contemporary dance is evaluated. She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, the Kalidas Samman and the Legends of India award.
A versatile artist, Dashrath Patel (1927-2010) graduated from the College of Art, Chennai, where he was a student of Devi Prasad Roy-Choudhury and later went abroad to specialize in ceramics, photography and engraving. He was drafted as the founder-director of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, in 1961. After twenty prolific years at the NID, where he was at the helm of every major national design initiative, he re-settled in Chennai and went on to set up a Rural Design School in Sewapuri, near Varanasi. He was also the designer of the Inaugural events of the Festivals of India in France and the USSR. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan posthumously in January 2011.