Dancer and actor Lakshmi Gopalaswamy portrays ethereal simplicity in her classical dance performances. An A-grade artiste of Doordarshan, Lakshmi made her mark as a Bharatanatyam dancer much before her foray into the film industry. With abhinaya as her forte, and endowed with expressive eyes, she has danced her way into many connoisseurs' hearts. Excerpts from an interview, where the artiste talks about her tryst with classical dance…
Initiation and training
I started learning Bharatanatyam under the late Padmini Rao when I was eight years old. She was a disciple of Kittappa Pillai, who was an exponent of the Tanjavur bani of Bharatanatyam. For a while, I also trained under Padmini Ramachandran in the Vazhavur style. My arangetam was with her. I furthered my studies in dance with guru Narmada for around 15 years. During the same time, I also trained with M.R. Krishnamurti of Kalakshetra, adapting the style from this school of dance, which strengthened my foot work and also enhanced my knowledge of the theoretical aspects of dance. I've also had the privilege of a short stint with Leela Samson.
Relationship with gurus
Guru Narmada, or Aunty, as I fondly refer to her, was more like a friend and we shared a deep bonding. She instilled in me a sense of confidence, which has helped me develop my own style. I have a treasure trove of memories of the times spent with her. For instance, we choreographed many jatis, and each jati used just one mudra. She is no more, and I miss her terrific sense of humour. While training under Kittu Sir, I enriched my dance through his sound knowledge of the art form. His ideals of life such as simple living and high thinking have also greatly influenced me.
Mother shows the way
My mother, Uma Gopalaswamy, being a scholar of music, provided the artistic nourishment that prompted me to move towards towards Bharatanatyam. Her knowledge of music and her repertoire have helped me a lot in becoming the artiste I am. She still sings for my dance performances.
Leela Samson, Vyjayantimala Bali, Padma Subramaniam, Malavika Sarukkai ... At each stage of my dance career I have been deeply influenced by each of them. I am inspired by the sheer classicism of Vyjayantimala's dance, Leela Samson's innovative takes on the Kalakshetra style, and so on.
Dance should not only be cerebral, but it should also be from the heart. My style is a synthesis of the above mentioned dancers' influences. I also believe in doing justice to the mood and music of a particular composition. My dance is visual music. I strive for physical perfection and aim to keep my dance pure with some innovations here and there. It should strike a chord with the audience, who should revel in the beauty and philosophy of life reflected through this medium. In these very competitive times, I believe that dance has the power to nourish the soul.
Learning and choreography
I react instantaneously to music and translate its structure into dance. I never completely choreograph a piece – only 80 to 90 per cent. The rest is spontaneous. It's a dynamic process. I try to re-interpret many pieces as I evolve as an artiste and learn more about the medium. I have been part of many choreographed dance performances in India and abroad such as fusion of Bharatanatyam and percussion, jugalbandhi with Rajendra Gangani, and group choreographies with Chitralekha Bolar's dance company, and so on.
The Alaripu. Although it's a simple item, it brims with beauty. In varnams, I love the emotional content of padams as I feel it radiates a feeling of liberation for women.
Classical vs. contemporary dance
What is contemporary dance but an offshoot of classical dance? A different language is being portrayed through this medium. It stretches our imagination and opens a new area in communication of concepts and ideas through the body.
Classical vs. cinematic dance
Cinematic dance is also slowly developing into an independent art form. Classical dance has a tighter framework and it has a whole philosophy, in terms of content. Cinematic dance has more to do with body language and is like a melting pot of styles.
On reality shows diluting classical art
To a great extent they are a stepping stone for many to advance their careers. It provides money and fame to sustain oneself as an artiste. Nevertheless, to get into the trap of reality shows would be detrimental if one aspires to be a serious artiste and proceed beyond mediocrity.
Aspirations and ambitions
I have a lot more to create and I aspire to express my creativity to the fullest. It's a dream of mine to choreograph rare music compositions of Subbarama Dikshithar, Mysore Maharaja, Dasa Sahitya – all from my home State, Karnataka.
Keywords: Dancer and actor Lakshmi Gopalaswamy