Music and dance never cease to inspire me, and I truly believe that an element of some ‘divine force’ resides in an artist while they perform their art. The art, of course, applies to any art but having spent my ‘dreamy teen years in a place next to “Kalamandalam’’ music and dance hits home first. Though it was the dance that made me ‘follow’ (stalk is a better word in my case) Rukmini, I went to her to write about her ‘creation’ – the Rukmini she is.
If I’m to enumerate the reasons I’m in awe of Rukmini Vijayakumar, the list is endless. I tire easily by just thinking of the various activities she packs into every 24 hours she gets.
To me, to be able to dance, to stay fit and healthy, to be creative, to contribute to the community – is a bunch of dreams. Sometimes, some of these happen. There are many around me who are gifted, – who do many of these in bouts and some who take a couple of them as their core. What sets Rukmini apart is that she is a sculpture..sculpted by her dedication in every hour of the day and brought to life by the creativity and grace she’s innately blessed with.
She practices regularly, has 60 odd students in her dance school called Raadha Kalpa, engages the community around her in performance arts under the banner Lshva, does programs across the world, choreographs and creates new dance numbers for performances, is an actress, practices Yoga, Pilates, inspires vegetarians with her ‘salads’ from Madhavi Farms (her Father’s farm) – and there may be things I have missed out..just because I’m out of breath!
There is a routine she follows from the age of 17!
4:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. – Core strength training
6 a.m. – 8 a.m. – Adavu practice
8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. – Yoga or Pilates
10 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Rehearsals (partly discussions and creations and partly practice)
And this is on days she doesn’t travel – and she is someone who has danced in various stages across the globe. US (most of the cities in the US); UK; Netherlands; Malaysia; Dubai; Qatar; Germany; Switzerland; Brazil; France; Czech Republic; Bali; Canada and a couple more!
Dance is a meditation of the body and soul like any other art form. But to devote oneself to such a regular routine of creation is like participating in the divine act of creation itself. She started dance at the age of 5, and her character was that of the mythological figure Dhruva. Dhruva had demonstrated such steadfast commitment (Tapasya) to Lord Vishnu that he was blessed to take the position of the steadfast pole star. Somehow her career so far seemed metaphorically aligned with Dhruva’s story. I’ve often seen her hourly commitment in the creation of the artist she is – as her ‘Tapasya’.
It is coincidental that Rukmini’s mother who used to perform as well, danced for the last time in the same stage where Rukmini staged Dhruva. Both her parents encouraged her to continue her passion..even if it meant skipping college. Considering that she got a scholarship in Carnegie Mellon..it was quite a bold and unconventional take by the parents.
Rukmini was 17 when she finished grade 12, and she decided to explore dance until she reached 18 and travelled for studies. The exploration shifted to a passionate vocation and a lifetime choice when the years of learning and performing dance extended from 1-3. After 3 years, she decided to formally learn dance and give her talent and passion some form of formal degree. She did BFA in the Boston Conservatory (Berkeley College) (She studied Anatomy & Physiology at BU, and started MFA at Sastra University, she did physical training at UCLA)
It becomes drab prose if I’m to list her accomplishments and the crowns she juggles – it is available in Wikipedia. (What you must correct there though is that she’s initially from Bangalore and not Hyderabad as Wikipedia says).
I was keener to discuss the zeal with which she pursued and continues to pursue her passion. Someone who took an interest in ‘shows over exams’, she did her Arangetram when she was 15 and still managed to get selected in a university like Carnegie Mellon for Science. She was trained by Sundari Santhanam the senior student of the famous Padma Subramanian) and learnt ‘Karanas’ the oldest form of Natyashastra defined by Padma Subramanian – she would go to the US and study dance forms like Ballet and Jazz during summer holidays. When she did her BFA in the US, she did the reverse by spending her 4-5 months of time away from college – literally living in her teachers’ houses. (Sundari Santhanam and Narmada).
To sum it up – she danced – all the time, all forms, all the places and all the opportunities she ever got. She mastered the oldest form of Bharatanatyam and applied her learnings in the pedagogy of western movement forms and created new avenues.
She was just 19 when she did her solo production -she smiles as she said that it was named ‘Rukmini’. After college, she spent time in productions and dance choreography where she created a bunch of Bharatanatyam vocabularies – Varnams. Ashtapadis etc. Andaal and Kodligowtham remain her favourite.
Her space in Koramangala – decked with children’s paintings on the wall and book collections on all things from Bharatanatyam, yoga and non-fiction, extolling the virtues of performance arts and the need to stay agile reflects yet another side of her personality as a teacher. She started teaching only recently as she wanted to ensure that she mastered the maturity required for passing on the art. Chiselling things to perfection is her way as we know by now!
As I went there seeking to tell the story of a poetry in motion, I realised that she was the one who painted stories in the most beautiful ways one can imagine. From her own style of dance, her inspiring healthy living stories in social media, encouragement of societal involvement in performance arts, fashion shows and the big media (movies) – she fills the canvas with her vibrancy and colour.
I was speechless the moment I met her – overwhelmed at meeting a star..and was exhausted listing down her simple steps in her crafted journey. As I was busy taking notes and listening to her – the one question that kept ringing in my head was ‘How’! How is possible to do all of these – in the same 24 hours that all of us get.
Her answer – in her own words –
“I’m not sure I work at all. Dance envelops my being. Meera wrote that she had to give up, her social body, her town body, and her family body to be with The Dark One. My Dark One is my dance.’”
I love dance, I admire the dancer in her, I’m in awe of the beautiful mind she’s got – but above all – I gasp at the tenacious and tireless creator she is – not just of dance forms – but the art called life.