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Life & Work with Vijaya Lakshmi

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vijaya Lakshmi.

Hi Vijaya, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I am a world-renowned Indian classical dancer, an acclaimed exponent of Mohiniyattam, the graceful classical dance form from South India. I’m also a choreographer, speaker, feminist, actress, writer & singer. I have taken Mohiniyattam to higher levels by constantly exploring uncharted territory and expanding traditional boundaries by celebrating both Indian and worldwide culture through unique innovative choreography. A recipient of several prestigious awards, last year, I was awarded the coveted Regents’ Professor & Lecturers Program at UCLA – an honor given to luminaries like Nobel laureates in the past. I continue to rejuvenate and evolve this ancient art form. I have performed at some of the most prestigious venues in India and around the globe, spanning over thirty countries, sponsored by The Govt. Of India, including the Bolshoi Theatre, the Edinburgh International Festival and the Lincoln Centre. In 2004, I co-authored a book along with my Guru-mother, Bharati Shivaji entitled ‘Mohiniyattam’, released by the Hon. President of India. I have a Bachelors & Master in English Literature from Lady Shriram College, Delhi University and am the Artistic-Director of the Centre For Mohiniyattam, New Delhi & the Founder-Director of The Mohiniyattam Institute, Los Angeles.

It was my single-minded passion and dedication towards my art that kept me going on an inspired journey, spanning so many decades and weathering countless hurdles. I also realized that the one most important lesson was to believe in myself, regardless of external validation. Being fearless in my artistic vision and staying rooted in my conviction gave me the strength and resilience to carve out my own path, which the artistic fraternity could simply not ignore. If anything, I took it by storm and received a lot of admiration and accolades.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It has most certainly not been a smooth road. In fact, at every step, I faced seemingly insurmountable & relentless hurdles. Perhaps, anyone else in my shoes would have given up in abject despair ages ago. When I look back at my life and all the events in it, be it personal or professional, I see that I never feared taking risks. People who have had the greatest impact in society are those who did not shy away or get intimidated by taking risks. It is obviously, much more “safer” and convenient to follow the herd but to follow one’s heart takes immense courage and conviction. I have found that when I decided to take risks and follow my intuition, the path, however challenging, has been immensely rewarding, in fact in unprecedented ways. It’s almost like, when we, as individuals, try to stay true to ourselves and who we are, the Universe recognizes that and goes all out to support us in our “solitary” endeavour. When we take the first step, the Universe takes the remaining steps to enable us to realize our dreams and aspirations. On the personal front, my earliest recollection of taking risks was, as a young teenager, pulling my mother out of an abusive marriage and not knowing what our future would be and how we would be able to cope with life moving forward. And later of being a single mother to raise my daughter & eventually “moving” to America, at the prime of my career in India.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am an Internationally recognized Indian classical dancer of Mohiniyattam, the graceful classical dance form from South India. Professionally, I have always challenged stereotypes associated with the traditional dance form that I do, which I found to be extremely limiting, detrimental and diminishing to the art form. I created new productions, unprecedented in its history, which explored and highlighted its strengths and immense potential, rather than reflecting its stunted and stagnant perception. My innovative and ground-breaking choreographies compelled not just India to sit up and take notice but garnered international recognition as well. And, interestingly, now, I see my dance form, which is rooted in the Sacred feminine, as a powerful expression of femininity and its resonance with society. My journey as a dancer and woman seems to coalesce into one seamless whole, to question social, cultural & societal norms. Yet again, an unusual path, fraught with risks but deeply fulfilling.

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Image Credits
Sara Baur, Urs Baur, Beenu Rajput, Venkatesh

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