Rukmini Vijayakumar from Bengaluru is an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer and also a savvy modern and ballet dancer. She occasionally lights up the big screen with her acting stints too. She was in Hyderabad for ‘Gudi Sambaraalu’, the Telangana Temple Festival recently organised by the Telangana Heritage Trust. Rukmini along with members of her dance troupe Raadha Kalpa held the audience spellbound with the magical performance of the story of Prabhavati – Story of an Asura Princess.
A day before the performance, Rukmini talks about the production. “ Prabhavati is more like a dance ballet and based on a novel called Prabhavati Pradhyumna by Pingali Suranna. Taken from Mahabharatha, the poet has made his own version and used swan as an integral part of the story. It is a standard romantic story with humour in some parts and has dance and traditional theatre,” points out Rukmini. The troupe toured all over the US staging the production. “The language is mainly Telugu and Sanskrit and it is nice that we are doing it here in Hyderabad. I like Telugu; it is very poetic and blends itself well,” smiles Rukmini.
Dance as a way of life
Dance for Rukmini is a way of life, beyond her performances, choreographies and teaching. “I started dancing very young. I didn’t think I would do it as a profession until much later,” she recollects. When she took a year off after high school, her choices laid the foundation. “I went to college, but that one year off became two years and in the third year, I decided to apply to the dance college and did my bachelor in fine arts in dance,” she states. Was it an easy decision to make? “It was one of the hard decisions because science, contrary to popular thinking, was easy for me. It came to me naturally and a safe career choice. If I studied and became an architect, I would get a job but in performing arts, it is very different as you have to make your own path. It is scarier but it is much more exciting and challenging to take an uncertain career and chart your path. So far it has been good to me,” she says. Rukmini skilfully manages to balance traditional Bharatanatyam and contemporary dance. “I think they (modern and traditional dance) exist in separate worlds for me. I have been doing a lot more Bharatanatyam than contemporary. I work on some modern pieces in a year but usually present it once or twice, solo and in front of a close and small audience. Bharatanatyam takes me all over the world. I have been performing as a solo artiste for more than 10 years and my company has been there for the last five years,” she states. Do your performances overlap? “I try to keep my vocabulary separate. People presume that I use contemporary dance but I would say that is just presumption. In Bharatanatyam, I use a lot of karanas, which are ancient systems of movement. Now they use adavus in Bharatanatyam and karanas are what Padma Subrahmanyam researched. One of her senior most students was one of my very influential gurus,” explains Rukmini and adds, “My training in ballet and modern has allowed me to be physically in connect with my body. My contemporary dance doesn’t intrude into my Bharatanatyam and my Bharatanatyam doesn’t enter my contemporary.”
Her mother, the first woman pilot of Karnataka, was also dancing, but didn’t take it up professionally. “My mother is my first inspiration,” says Rukmini. Her role as a teacher comes with a huge responsibility to motivate and encourage young dancers. “It is also big commitment because you have to make sure your children also progress. I took a while and waited till my solo performance was in a place. I just started teaching last year,” she says. Rukmini affirms her training is unique. “Children start when they are 5 and I want them to do everything that I couldn’t do,” she says with a smile.
A fitness freak, Rukmini turns impatient seeing lazy people. “I think the only thing that bothers me is complacency. When people are complacent or lazy, it bothers me. People generally say, ‘I will get something done’ and they don’t have a valid reason not to do it and they don’t do it because they don’t care or they don’t work hard enough.”
Talking about the fusion scene, the artiste affirms, “Every art form has to change and without change, it will get stagnant. That being said, I modify my costumes, but it is still traditional.” What do we define as traditional, she asks and adds, “Is it post medieval or what came in the 17th century or because 17th century costumes were different from what we consider traditional. It was changed to something else, now if people change we can’t blame them. Of course, it looks odd to watch someone wear t-shirt and jeans or shorts and do Bharatanatyam. And to be honest, even if they do that with right artistic motivation and the audience was moved and felt something, then you can’t fault it. But doing it just for effects is pointless. But I don’t see a reason to judge every little change you make. I don’t believe in fusing for the sake of fusion. Every art form has a heartbeat of its own. If you want it to come together, it has to be a proper marriage of sorts. There is one person who has brought contemporary dance and Kathak together; Akram Khan. If you call it fusion, that is stunning.”