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T Reddi Lakshmi: It was either money or contentment and I chose the latter
- Vijay Shanker

July 20, 2022

New Delhi based Kuchipudi exponent T Reddi Lakshmi is one of the foremost disciples of renowned Kuchipudi exponents and mentors, Gurus Jayarama Rao and Vanashree Rao who have trained several students. Lakshmi holds the distinction of being among the most brilliant and has already performed in 17 countries. Lakshmi talks about her devotion to the dance form and her varied experiences as a performer and teacher.

Lakshmi will be performing in Mumbai for the Raindrops Festival for young dancers at Nalanda's Kanak Sabha in Juhu on Saturday July 23rd at 6.30pm.

Reddi Lakshmi

What attracted you to dance?
Learning classical dance was my childhood dream. I was always attracted to classical dance and music naturally and my father T.S. Viswanadham made my dream come true by finding an institute to learn classical dance when I moved to Delhi for higher studies.

Why did you select Kuchipudi as your style of specialization?
I hail from Andhra Pradesh and the predominant language is Telugu, which is my mother tongue, hence a natural inclination to this style which is fascinating. Literally everything about Kuchipudi fascinates me, but to be specific, I would say the freedom that it offers to develop the manodharma of the character.

When did you decide to become a professional dancer?
From the time I started learning dance, all my decisions related to studies and jobs revolved around it. I made the decision to become a professional dancer when my 9-5 job became overwhelming and I couldn't give enough time to practice and perfect my art. I knew then that it was time for me to take the long-pending decision and made a choice. It was either money or contentment and I chose the latter.

What did you find to be the most difficult aspect of Kuchipudi?
I always felt that portraying the character of Satyabhama and performing the full-length Bhama Kalapam was very challenging. This lyrically rich ballet is a combination of Natya, Nritta and Nritya and has a lot of scope for dramatization. Each and every line has different layers of meaning and the manodharma can change for each individual performer. However much we may try to do justice to the character, there is always scope for more, especially in Bhama Kalapam. The entire ballet is so beautifully done in terms of music, technique and theatre that the performer has to be fully aware of all these things and have a command over them at any cost. It is not something that one can copy and paste onto the stage but one has to get into the skin of the character represented and that's what makes it most interesting, difficult and at the same time my favourite aspect as well.

Do you think Kuchipudi is gaining in popularity now?
I think Kuchipudi is already popular but serious practitioners are very few. There are many who are learning but only very few can make this their profession. I find very few in Delhi who show interest in learning Kuchipudi dance and it's a struggle to find real learners. The situation can be different from state to state or country to country. I frequently get enquiries related to classes whenever someone sees my videos on Instagram or Facebook, but never found the continuing passion in them. Because of this lack of commitment we have very few torch bearers of this dance form as compared to others. I really hope the present generation of practitioners will take inspiration from our Gurus and work hard to keep it alive and pass it on.

How did you manage your time and performances during the pandemic? What were the challenges you faced?
Most of the time went into forecasting the future. It was scary as I lived alone and met no one for 7 months. I realized how it would be in prison. I lost my job and there was no source of income. Life was blurry. I couldn't practice dance due to space constraints. Life didn't resume the same way even after the lockdown. With the encouragement from my Guru, I started taking online workshops which supported me financially and most importantly psychologically. Dance has always been my constant companion and great strength. I did a Bharatanatyam certificate course from IGNOU, Yoga Teacher Training Course, and started my training in Kathakali during this time apart from many other skills to improve as an artiste. I also took up a work-from-home job as a recruiter in the corporate sector to support myself financially but I had to quit because dance was my ultimate destination. The time during the pandemic was painful but also an eye-opener which created new and exciting ideas and opportunities for me.

Now that staged performances are back, what can you look forward to?
I am very excited to be back on stage and finally be able to dance to a live audience but I am being very choosy when it comes to performances. I now want to concentrate more on creating pieces that reflect my perception and artistry. I am investing more time in learning crafts that will enhance the quality and understanding of the concept to the audience. I have opened a new centre of my academy Nritya Vahini in Delhi, where I am training enthusiasts and a few underprivileged children free of cost. It is my dream to create more Kuchipudi performers in Delhi to keep the flag of Kuchipudi flying in the Capital.

Guru Jayarama Rao and Lakshmi
Guru Jayarama Rao and Lakshmi

Most memorable experience or performance of yours...
A tour to Canada with my Gurus as part of their Kuchipudi Dance Ensemble. Performing full-length Bhama Kalapam in Hyderabad for Nartanam Conclave along with my Guru as Sutradhara is my favourite performance. I want to be a student forever... that way I will keep learning better ways to better myself.

How different is it performing in India and abroad?
Both are unique in their own way. I am always excited to perform whether it is on a national or international platform. Both have their own set of challenges to face and it's this very thing that makes the life of an artiste complete and fulfilled.

Are you satisfied with your contribution as a dancer and teacher? What's your definition of an ideal dancer?
There is no limit to contribution whether it's as a dancer, teacher or a human being. Contributing is not crucial but finding the resources to contribute is. I will always look for ways to contribute more in my own way. There is so much that can be done but resources are essential.
I feel an ideal dancer is one who identifies their own flaws first and corrects them. Also, someone who can accept the possibility of others being better at something other than themselves.

Your future plans and aspirations?
To be an artiste forever and do my bit for society by being the same.

Contact T Reddi Lakshmi: +91 7217832767 /

Vijay Shankar
Vijay Shankar is a Kuchipudi and Kathakali exponent, teacher, bilingual journalist, arts critic and actor.

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