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A picture of poise

ARUNA CHANDARAJU

But for Rukmini Devi Arundale, the renowned dance teacher Adyar Lakshman would have pursued cricket


Mysore Vasudevacharya was humility personified. I have observed that it is this trait that enables one to rise higher and higher in life




RELENTLESS LEARNING Adyar Lakshman: ‘I also learnt lessons of life and character-building from all the great teachers’

This is one interview, I think, whose progress seemed difficult. Every two minutes, dance-teacher and nattuvannar Adyar K. Lakshman is interrupted by an aspiring dancer and parents; a famous artiste; or art-teacher; who wants to touch his feet and se ek his blessings. But then, when you are in the company of a legendary dance-guru who will be here only for a day , you have to be prepared for these things, I tell myself.

Born in a small town called Kuppam in Andhra Pradesh, Adyar Lakshman’s awesome journey to acclaim as one of India’s greatest dance teachers and nattuvannars is indeed inspirational, and the kind that compels respect among India’s art fraternity.

At 11, he was taken to Kalakshetra where he learnt Bharatanatyam, mridangam and nattuvangam undergoing the institute’s much-lauded rigorous and methodical training. Among his dance teachers were doyens like Rukmini Devi Arundale, Mylapore Gowri Ammal, and Sarada Ammal, while nattuvangam teachers included Dandayuthapani Pillai. He also studied classical music under legends like Mysore Vasudevacharya, Tiger Varadacharya, Mudikonda Venkatramana Iyer, Budulur Krishnamurthy Shastry etc.

Lakshman even learnt Kathakali and acquired proficiency in Sanskrit.

After graduation, he participated in what are reckoned among Kalakshetra’s most famous productions. He assisted in choreographing several dance-dramas and later, began choreographing his own items. Alongside dance, Lakshman continued his vocal-music pursuits and regularly broadcast concerts over All India Radio.

As his stature grew, he provided nattuvangam for solo performances of some of India’s greatest dancers––Rukmini Devi, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Dhananjayans, Krishnaveni Lakshman, Kamala, Sarada Hoffman, and Sudharani Raghupathy. After leaving Kalakshetra, he continued to live at Adyar in Chennai where he instituted Bharata Choodamani, an academy for fine arts. Classical dance is taught under its banner at various cities in India and abroad.

And yet, this great artiste had almost turned his back on the world of music and dance as child. He was 11 when Rukmini Devi told him she sensed great potential in him and he should take up dance. But Lakshman wasn’t easily convinced. Reflecting the popular conception that Bharatanatyam is stylised solely for females, he replied: “Isn’t dance a girlie thing. Something only females do?”

An amused Rukmini Devi assured him that wasn’t the case and he would make a good dancer. He was still reluctant. Knowing that he was fond of sports especially cricket, she tried another enticement. “Look at it as a means of good physical exercise.” Thus persuaded, Lakshman began his training.

About four years later, his passion for cricket had grown to a near-obsession. Rukmini Devi decided to step in again. She called him one day and said: “You have 24 hours. Make up your mind whether you want to make cricket or dance, your calling in life.” Lakshman says he pondered over the choice for a whole day. And, finally pitched for dance. “What tilted the balance was the thought that a cricketer can play only till around 35 but a dancer’s career lasts well into middle age and even later.”

Ever since, there was no looking back. Lakshman attributes his success to the long line of illustrious teachers, he had: “I not only learnt the highest quality of classical dance and music from them. But an equally big gain was the lessons of life and character-building that I learnt from them.”

All his teachers –– in academics or the arts––were inspirational in some way enriching both his professional and personal life. From Rukmini Devi, he says he learnt the relentless pursuit of excellence which she embodied. “Mysore Vasudevacharya was humility personified. I have observed that it is this trait that enables one to rise higher and higher in life since humility cannot co-exist with complacency or smug self-satisfaction which lead to stagnation. From Dandayuthapani Pillai I learnt the importance of razor-sharp focus on rhythm (laya) which is a great asset in both music and dance.”

This doyen of dance has deservingly received many awards and citations.

However, he says his greatest reward is when “audiences say my compositions are aesthetically pleasing and when the dancer who undertakes them tells me the composition was artistically challenging and satisfying.”

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