Rukmini Vijayakumar turns author with two brand new books on dance!
The celebrated danseuse has her hands full! With quite a few films up her sleeve, several dance videos ready for release and two new books — we catch up with Rukmini Vijayakumar to find out more…
Fresh from a bunch of performances, the most recent being at Bharat Kalachar, Chennai on January 3 — where she was surprised by the great turnout in the midst of the Omicron scare — Rukmini Vijayakumar is now all set to launch two books that mark her debut as a writer. Known as a choreographer, dancer and film actress par excellence, Rukmini is known for several hits like Bommalattam (2008), Ananda Thandavam (2009) and Kaatru Veliyidai (2017), among many others. She is also a well-known model and the artistic director of the Raadha Kalpa Dance Company, with whom she has produced many popular dance dramas including Talattu (2018), Prabhavati (2014) and Nayani (2013).
Donning many hats comes naturally to this multitalented artiste and her foray into writing just marks a brand new addition to her long list of achievements. A recipient of the Jiri Kylian Grant for choreography and a resident choreographer at Korzo Theater, Netherlands in 2018; Rukmini holds a BFA degree from the Boston Conservatory in ballet and modern dance and has studied acting at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. Back home, she studied bharatanatyam under Guru Narmada, Guru Padmini Rao and Guru Sundari Santhanam (a senior disciple of Guru Padma Subramanyam).
We catch up with the danseuse to talk about her two new books — Finding Shiva and Discovering Devi — her upcoming film projects and her obsession with films around dance that are taking the internet by storm. Excerpts.
How did the idea of creating a coffee table book like Discovering Devi come about?
I remember seeing a coffee table book on dance long ago, maybe over a decade ago, in Thanjavur; and it was written from a western perspective. A foreigner had visited India and had made a book about how he experienced classical dance — an outsider’s perspective — I don’t remember the name though. The book planted the idea in my head — we didn’t seem to have such a book from an Indian perspective. Discovering Devi was born from that need.
Where does Discovering Devi take inspiration from and how did you go about putting it together?
I’ve been performing at the Shivaratri festivals across Tamil Nadu for over 20 years now. I remember going on these dance performance tours since I was 15. You tour close to 14-15 temples across the state — Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur, Gangaikondacholapuram, Thiruvaiyaru, Thirunallar, Nagapattinam, Thiruvarur and Mayavaram among others. You dance; you travel for half an hour and you dance again; and then travel again — two to four performances a night. It’s very demanding, but I really enjoy it. It’s one of the only places left where a completely public and attentive audience comes in thousands to watch classical dance. You become a part of the ritual in a way you cannot explain. You might not be in the temple doing the ceremony, but you are definitely a part of it. Your body is broken by the end of it all, but it all seems worth it. I’ve always felt that there’s so much life that surrounds this whole experience. On one of the previous Shivaratris, a photographer friend from the Netherlands had accompanied me on this tour and he’d taken a few pics and that’s where it all came together for me as an idea. But we weren’t able to shoot as much as we’d wanted. So then, I redid the tour again with photographers Anup J Kat and Vivian Ambrose and that’s how the coffee table book Discovering Devi finally came about.
And what about Finding Shiva?
I was meant to write the context to these photos in Discovering Devi. Honestly, I didn’t really know how to approach the whole thing. So, I just started writing, open-ended, about dance and performance and the experience, but I ended up writing so much, it became a second book. So, yes, Finding Shiva, which is a paperback, is connected to this journey, but it’s more about finding myself through dance. I think any performer will relate to this book, because it’s all about finding oneself. Discovering Devi is therefore more from the viewers’ perspective — in this case Anup and Vivian; while Finding Shiva is from the performer’s perspective — it’s about an inner journey.
This was your foray into writing?
I’ve only written articles before. I’ve never been able to collect my thoughts to write a whole book before this. Writing about technicalities is much easier for me as a teacher. My thoughts are very well formed when it comes to technical discourse, but imaginatively I find it harder to use words over expressions and movements. The book required me to translate my thoughts into language that made sense to a reading audience, I had to tell a story in words and I found that very challenging. It was definitely a learning experience and I am the better for it. The two books also work together in a way, if you read Finding Shiva and look at the pictures in Discovering Devi, you’ll have a lot more context. There are also excerpts from Finding Shiva in Discovering Devi.
Your social media is abuzz with dance films, can we expect more?
I’ve been doing a lot of dance films — creating, directing and scripting; and with the pandemic around, I’ve been focusing a lot more on such remote work. Anup and I worked on a very interesting film called Matsya, that’s largely shot underwater, and is very abstract in its narrative and that should be out pretty soon. I’ve also made another one on Kaikeyi (from the Ramayana) with Vivian and that’s probably going to see a few festivals before I put it out there for the public.
And when can we see you perform next?
I’m showcasing my new solo Abducted at the Attakkalari Biennial at Ranga Shankara, Bengaluru; which is slated for February 11 and will hopefully remain scheduled if the COVID-19 situation stays under control.
And finally, are you working on any new films?
I’m doing a Kannada film called Dasara with Sharmila Mandre and Satish Ninasam, where I have a nice bharatanatyam piece. We’ve been shooting it for a while, but it’s finally over, so it should be out soon and I’ve also done a small role in Kannada film Thimayya & Thimayya. I’ve also done the second lead role in a Telugu film that I can’t really talk about right now, but I am super excited about it and will surely let you know more about it when I can.