Monday, August 03, 2015

A French Love Affair

Noted Bharata Natyam dancer, Paris Laxmi, who is from France, has embraced Hinduism and married a Kathakali dancer

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: By Albin Mathew. Paris Laxmi posing near the pond at the Mahadeva Shiva temple at Vaikom; at her home in Vaikom; with her husband and and Kathakali exponent, Pallippuram Sunil 

Paris Laxmi could feel her heart beating faster. A few minutes into her Bharata Natyam dance performance at the Kerala Kalamandalam at Cheruthuruthy, in Kerala, she could see the Kathakali legend Kalamandalam Gopi make his way to the front. Laxmi became to dance with even more vigour and passion.

45 minutes later, when her performance had concluded, Gopi took the mike and said, “Paris Laxmi’s sincerity and skill for the dance form are clear for all to see. All artistes of south India should appreciate and respect her dedication.”

At her home in Vaikom, seated beside her husband, Pallippuram Sunil, a beaming Laxmi says, “It is the high point of my career.”

It is a windy and cloudy July morning, but Laxmi is shining in her Indian ensemble: a bright red cotton saree, a tear drop of a bindi, a dash of sindoor on her forehead, and a gold necklace around her neck. “I like traditional and ethnic Indian clothes,” she says. “Most of the time I wear sarees for functions and salwar kameez when I am at home.” But the overall impression is of how slim she is, probably the result of the long hours of dancing she does very day.

And when Laxmi speaks English, it is slow, careful, and with pauses. “I like it here in Vaikom,” she says. Although she is quite far away from her own home.

Laxmi grew up in the town of Aix-En-Provence in France. Her father, Yves, is a stage artist and poet, while her mother Patricia is a sculptor. From an early age, Laxmi used to hear stories about India from her parents, both of whom were passionate about the country. In fact, she was named Myriam Sophia Lakshmi, while her brother is called Theo Elie Narayan.

From childhood, my mother would tell me stories about Ganesha, Shiva, Krishna, Rama, Parvathi and Sita,” she says. “I remember my trips to India in my childhood.”

At age nine, she began to learn Bharata Natyam from French dancers Armelle Choquard and Dominique Delorme. When she grew older, she had training stints at Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam’s Nrithyodaya School of Dance in Chennai, and Dr. Sucheta Chapekar’s Kalavardhini Institute in Pune. Apart from that, she has learnt jazz, flamenco, contemporary, and ballet.

By learning all these dance forms, I have become a better Bharata Natyam dancer,” she says.

On September 14, 2012, she got married to Sunil. She had seen him for the first time when she was only seven years old during a programme at Fort Kochi.

Among the group of dancers, he stood out,” says Laxmi. “He had a strong personality.” They met again when she was a teenager. “Later, at 19, we thought about marriage, even though Sunil is 14 years older,” says Laxmi. “We had a compatibility because of our passion for the arts.

A few months before the marriage, Laxmi converted to Hinduism through a Vedic puja conducted by the Arya Samaj at the Mahadeva Shiva temple at Vaikom.

Dancing is a worship of God,” she says. “And we portray goddesses when we are dancing. So it became natural for me to become a Hindu.”

Today, Sunil and Laxmi run the Kalashakti School of Arts at Vaikom where they teach Kathakali, Bharatanatyam, Mridangam, Violin and Carnatic Vocals. But

Laxmi is a bit disappointed by the attitude of a few parents and students. “Some pupils are only interested in learning items, to win competitions, and not to master the art form,” she says. “So I am looking for students who want to dedicate their lives to dance.”

During their free moments, the couple had developed a classical dance fusion called 'Krishna Mayam'. While Sunil plays Krishna in the Kathakali style, Laxmi plays Radha, Draupadi, Kuchela, and Arjuna in the Bharata Natyam style.

The programme has been well received,” says Laxmi. In June, they performed at the Sri Jayadev Samaroh festival at Bhubaneshwar (the poet Sri Jayadev wrote the epic poem, 'Gita Govinda'). Later, Paris was honoured with the 'Padmavathi Puraskar' award, while the couple received the 'Sri Jayadev Rastriya Nrithya Prathibha Puraskar'.

Incidentally, Laxmi also did a role as a dancer, in Malayalam films, ‘Big B’ and ‘Bangalore Days’.

Finally, when asked about her unusual name, she says, “It was mridangam maestro, Thiruvarur Bakthavathsalam, who told me that Laxmi is too brief a name. He said that in south India, artistes add the names of their hometowns to their names. So, even though Paris is not my hometown, Bakthavathsalam Sir said that Paris Laxmi sounds good. And so it became my name. And everybody likes it, including me.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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