Lakshmi Vishwanathan is a leading exponent
of Bharatanatyam, the classical dance of South India. She has been
described as a "poetic dancer", and a "dancer’s dancer". Born in 1944,
her performance career spanning fifty years has been a rare cultural
phenomenon because Lakshmi combines in her art the spirit of the
renaissance of Indian dance, the essence of which is a combination of
tradition and innovation. An artiste who never dilutes classicism,
Lakshmi is a creative dancer who represents the essence of the Tanjavur
tradition of Bharatanatyam noted for its grace, excellent technique,
lyricism and expressive Abhinaya. She has mastered a vast traditional
repertoire, and added to it, her own compositions and choreography. She
has also researched and directed several dance-theatre productions with
new and un-explored themes. As a researcher and scholar, Lakshmi has
delved deep into not only ancient Indian dance texts and theories, but
has also studied the history of Dance and its sociological importance in
changing societies, and has authored four highly acclaimed books.
EARLY DANCE AND MUSIC TRAINING:
Lakshmi had her ARANGETRAM - debut performance in 1952 after training
under Smt. Kousalya of the Vazhuvur Ramaiah Pillai School. Held at the
historic Rasika Ranjani Sabha in Mylapore, Madras, Lakshmi’s performance
was presided over by the legendary E.Krishna Iyer, the founder
secretary of the Music Academy, Madras. E. Krishna Iyer was the pioneer
who was responsible for the renaissance of Bharatanatyam in the early
twentieth century, bringing dancers from temples in the state of Tamil
Nadu, to Madras, and making them perform for an elite audience who had
never seen dance as an art form. Lakshmi’s talent as a young dancer was
noticed by many a connoisseur, leading to her performing in some of the
oldest sabhas of Madras, like the Indian Fine Arts Society, and the Sri
Parthasarathy Swami Sabha.
From 1953 to 1963, Lakshmi had intensive coaching in dance and classical
vocal music from eminent Gurus. Her dance Gurus included Courtalam
Ganesan Pillai, and Sankari Krishnan of the Tanajavur Kittappa Pillai
School. Her music teachers were, firstly her mother Alamelu Viswanathan,
followed by Tediyur Naraayanaswami, a disciple of Padma Vibhushan
Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Tiruvayyar Krishnamurthy and later T. Muktha.
Lakshmi’s deep knowledge of music and skills as a trained singer has
helped her to make her dance "visual music". She has also composed music
for her dance-theatre productions.
ACADEMICS AND EDUCATION:
On completing her high schooling, Lakshmi went on to graduate in English
literature from Queen Marys College, Madras University. With her degree
she also received the prestigious Akkammagari gold medal for English
from the University of Madras in 1963.
YOUNG AMBASSADOR OF INDIA
Lakshmi was chosen to be a guide at the India Pavilion of the New York
World’s fair in 1964 and 1965. During this assignment, Lakshmi also
danced in one of the very first colour TV programmes produced on
American television by RCA.
Lakshmi worked as a young cultural ambassador of India, travelling with
the Nehru memorial exhibition to the Smithsonian Institution in
Washington D.C. and the Museum of Arts in Los Angeles, 1965-66. World
famous designers Charles and Ray Eames, who designed the exhibit,
encouraged Lakshmi’s artistic abilities.
GURU PARAMPARA - PERFROMANCE CAREER
Lakshmi came under the eminent Guru Kanjivaram Ellappa in 1968 for a
five year intensive training in Bharatanatyam. She had found the ideal
teacher of the Tanjavur tradition in Guru Ellappa, a highly respected
veteran, and a great aesthete. He had apprenticed under Tanjavur
Kandappa who could trace his family links with dance for ten
generations. Lakshmi learned a vast repertoire of dances form this great
Guru. These included several masterpieces meant for dance, known as
"Pada Varnams", Jathiswarams, Alarippus, Thillanas, Padams and
Javalis. The essential style of Bharatanatyam that Lakshmi polished
under this Guru, was strictly classical both in technique and content.
The number of dance pieces that Lakshmi learnt and the ones especially
composed for her added up to a sizable repertoire meant for performance.
Ever the curious learner, Lakshmi also did the complete course in
Kuchipudi dance under Guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam, (1967-68) and
performed in lead roles as part of his troupe in dance-dramas like
Sri Krishna Parijatham, Ksheerasagara Madanam, and other traditional
repertory performances. Her graceful Kuchipudi dance received much
DANCE CHOREOGRAPHY AND ORIGINAL PRODUCTIONS:
From 1984, Lakshmi has choreographed thematic productions for her own
solo performances, and presented these original works in festivals and
events both in India and abroad.
The following are the much acclaimed thematic dance features:
Nandanar Charitram which Lakshmi premiered at the ITC festival in
Chennai became a big draw and was a moving dramatic feature in Tamil,
based on Gopalakrishna Bharati’s compositions.
Krishna Darshanam which highlighted Krishna from birth to the
Bhagavad Gita was lauded not only in India but also on tour in the USA.
The episode of Krishna and Kuchela became a memorable artistic
exposition which displayed Lakshmi’s expertise and imagination as well
as her mastery of dance.
Lakshmi is empanelled by the ICCR as ‘outstanding artist' in both solo
dance and group choreography. Her very first big production "Banyan Tree - Vata Vriksa",
produced in 1995, was premiered at Brandeis University in USA and later
toured the USA. It was performed in ten festivals during the December
Chennai season and received rave notices. It was also telecast on
In 1996-97 Lakshmi choreographed "Chatur Anga" with ten dancers. A
tribute to India’s fifty years of Independence, it was a huge success.
It was featured on Singapore TV12, on Asianet and also other satellite
"Vidya Sundari", based on the real-life story of Bangalore
Nagaratnammal, was Lakshmi’s tribute to the cause of heritage. A lyrical
production, it was appreciated for its originality and captivating
Another group show was the recent "Mayilapuri", about the myths and legends of Kapaliswara Temple. It was a first of its kind and was widely appreciated.
Two of Lakshmi’s DVDs have been released in 2008 and 2009. The "LEGENDS"
of Bharatanatyam series has Lakshmi’s sixty minute DVD featuring Padams
and Javalis. Lakshmi is a specialist in Abhinaya and this DVD does full
justice to her artistry.
Doordarshan has featured Lakshmi’s dances from their archives in their series on Dance Legends.
"Chatur Anga" the big group production has been the latest DVD release.
It features ten dancers and has four aspects of freedom as it's theme,
using poetry written by India's freedom fighters of early 20th century.
Lakshmi has also introduced a VCD of the music of Bharath Ratna M.S.Subbulakshmi, produced by the national Indian TV network .
POETRY OF DANCE, a documentary produced by Lakshmi on Bharatanatyam (2013) is an acclaimed DVD, rare in this genre.
Lakshmi scripted, directed and danced a one hour documentary film
- "Poetry of Dance". This highly acclaimed film, the first of its kind
was produced in 1987/88. It is a comprehensive introduction to
Bharatanatyam and was commissioned by Govt. of India, for the festivals
of India held in Russia and the USA. The film, shot in colour by the
national award-winning cameraman, Ashok Kumar, takes the viewer step by
step into the learning process of dance, while giving the historical and
mystical background of this ancient art form. The rich backdrop of
temples and landscapes of Tamil Nadu, gives the film an authentic
framework to delve into the intricacies of dance and all its symbolism
in gestures and facial expressions. In 2013, this documentary was
released commercially on DVD by the famous director Rajiv Menon.
PERFORMANCE HIGHLIGHTS National:
Lakshmi has been performing regularly in the prominent Sabhas and their
annual festivals in Chennai for four decades and more. These include The
Music Academy, The Indian Fine Arts Society, Tamil Isai Sangam, Sri
Krishna Gana Sabha, Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha, Brahma Gana Sabha,
Karthik Fine Arts, Narada Gana Sabha, Nungambakkam Cultural Academy,
Bharath Kalachar, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, and Mamallapuram Dance
Lakshmi has been invited to perform by cultural organisations all over
India during their festivals. She has performed in Delhi, Bombay,
Calcutta, Hyderabad, Bhilai, Bangalore, Cochin, Trivandrum,
Allappey, Kerala Kalamandalam, Khajuraho festival, Tanjore Big Temple
festival, Madurai, Chidamabaram Natyanjali, and Pondichery festival. She
has also been part of the International Dance Alliance annual
As a leading artist Lakshmi has been invited to perform in prestigious
events like the Sangeet Natak Akademi national festival held at the
National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai to celebrate fifty years of
Indian Independence. With her contemporaries, all leading dancers,
Lakshmi performed in important events organised by the South Zone
Cultural Centre in New Delhi, Tanjore and Trivandrum.
Lakshmi’s first performance for national dignitaries was in 1953 as a
child prodigy. She performed in Rashtrapathi Bhavan, New Delhi in the
presence of the President, Vice-President, and Prime Minister Nehru.
Lakshmi performed for President Venkataraman at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan,
and at Raj Bhavan, Chennai for the national day celebrations.
From 1971, Lakshmi has performed abroad regularly in festivals, and
other prestigious cultural events in fifteen countries. Among the
celebrities who have presented her shows or appreciated her artistry are
the world famous choreographers and dancers - Maurice Bejart in
Brussels, Mark Morris in New York, and Michael Baryshnikov in New York.
Lakshmi has conducted Master classes and performed at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, in 1974, 1989 and 1995 and 1999.
She has been on two country-wide tours of the USA - 1982, and 1999.
Lakshmi was invited to perform in the most prestigious American dance
event - the Jacob’s Pillow International dance Festival, Massachusetts
in 2003 and 2004. The week long season of performances by Lakshmi and her
group of dancers and musicians in this most important event in the
dance world of America was completely sold out. Her master class had a
At Wesleyan University, Connecticut ( 2005) Lakshmi conducted master
classes and presented a widely acclaimed performance of her classic
repertoire as part of the Navarathri Festival. At Wesleyan, she also
presented a lecture on the musician M.S.Subbulakshmi based on her
biography of this artist. Her performance the same year at the Peabody
Essex museum in Boston was well received.
From 1999, Lakshmi has been teaching summer Indian dance courses at the
famous Mark Morris Dance Centre, Brooklyn, New York. This centre is the
foremost school of Modern Dance in N.Y. Her performance for Mark Morris
dance centre was attended by the ballet icon, Michael Baryshnikov who
along with Mark Morris expressed his admiration for Lakshmi’s artistry.
In New York City, Lakshmi was presented at the Lighthouse theatre by Sanskriti and Swat Bhise.
Lakshmi has also performed in important events organised by Indian
Americans, and teachers of Indian Dance in the USA. These include
choreographing and performing with Jothi Raghavan’s "Nrityanjali" at MIT
in Boston, performing in Houston Tyagaraja Aradhana festival, and other
annual events in California, New Jersey, and Florida.
In 2014 Lakshmi was invited to be the Convener of the academic
discussions at UTSAV festival of dance and music in Washington D.C.
Lakshmi has been hosting exclusive dance recitals in Chennai for
visitors from the USA like the members of Metropolitan Museum of NY,
lead by Olivier Bernier.
Lakshmi has performed in prestigious events like the Brighton Festival,
the Edinburgh festival. Her shows in London were presented by the
impresario, Basil Douglas at the Purcell Room and the Queen Elizabeth
Hall. Lakshmi was the first teacher of Bharatanatyam at the Bharatiya
Vidya Bhavan, London, and has done fund raising performances for them.
She has appeared on BBC television, on Sunrise T.V and on BBC radio talk
inDANCE, a cultural organisation presented Lakshmi’s two hour
Abhinaya performance to a packed Canadian and multi-cultural
audience in Toronto , 2004. Sampradaya, another cultural organisation
invited Lakshmi to dance and also be the keynote speaker at their
festival dedicated to M.S.Subbulakshmi in 2005.
Sent on a tour by the ICCR, in 1980 Lakshmi performed at the National Theatre at Manila to packed houses.
Lakshmi’s early appearances in Holland include the Rotterdam
International dance festival at the Doelen theatre, and the Tropical
Museum festival in Amsterdam. Lakshmi has choreographed especially for
children, to be presented by her Dutch dance students of Surinamese
origin in schools all over Holland.
Lakshmi’s association with the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society has
been a long one, dating from 1980. She has performed for them, taught
master classes, been an examiner, and in 2002 has choreographed a full
scale dance-theatre production - "Dance of the Cosmos" which was
premiered to much acclaim at the Victoria Theatre.
In 2014, Lakshmi was part of Dance India Asia Pacific, as a senior
faculty member, lecturer and performance artist. This prominent event
was organised by MILAP festival of UK in association with APSARAS ARTS of
MAURITIUS AND RE-UNION:
At the festival of the Indian Ocean, Lakshmi danced as part of an
evening which highlighted sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar in 1975.
Since then Lakshmi has been to Re-union, the French island a few times
at the invitation of the Govt. of Reunion. Her group’s dances at the
Diwali festival were a great draw.
Lakshmi has been an examiner at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, Mauritus.
She has also performed a special show in their auditorium in the
presence of dignitaries and fans of Indian dance.
One of twentieth century’s great European choreographers, Maurice
Bejart, was based in Brussels. He personally presented Lakshmi’s dance
at the Opera Nationale’s Theatre de la Monnaie in a series of sold out
shows in 1971,72, and 73. In Brussels, Lakshmi has also performed at the
Palais des Beaux arts.
Early in her career, Lakshmi performed in Paris and also took summer classes at Rosella Hightower's summer school in Cannes.
In 2014, Lakshmi danced for the inaugural gala of the Kamasutra exhibition at the Pinacotheque museum in Paris.
Lakshmi toured Israel and performed at The Hebrew University, Jerusalem,
Haifa, Tel Aviv and Ashdod. Her performances were widely acclaimed.
Lakshmi was invited to perform by the Festival of Shiraz in Teheran
quite early in her international tours and she performed to packed
houses which were also telecast on National TV.
Lakshmi has also performed, lectured and conducted master classes in the
following places: Malaysia, Kuwait, Muscat, Sweden and Switzerland.
Lakshmi is a much sought after participant in conferences and symposiums
on Dance and Music. She has presented papers and lectured on various
important subjects related to dance in academic events in India and
abroad. She was the convenor for the Natya Kala Conference at the
Krishna Gana Sabha as early as 1984, 85. The themes for these
conferences were: Understanding the Renaissance, and Tradition and
Recently she lectured at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Bangalore, and the Bangalore International Centre.
Her lectures for the International Women's Association, Chennai, Rotary
clubs, and Overseas Women's Association, as well as social clubs like
The Madras Club are very popular.
Her lecture demonstrations in dance conferences both in India and abroad
have been accompanied by research papers which have been widely
published. Her insights into researched topics have been lauded by other
scholars and have been useful to students of dance. Apart from dance
lectures, Lakshmi has also lectured on Rukmini Devi’s contribution to
the renaissance of dance, the Life and Music of M.S. Subbulakshmi, the
Devadasi Heritage, and Dance under the Royal Umbrella in Tamil Nadu at
the South Asia Research Institute conference held in Southern Methodist
University, Dallas, USA.
Lakshmi was part of the panel to speak on WRITING FOR THE ARTS at the
Bangalore International Literature festival organised by Vikram Sampath
Kalaimamani - Tamil Nadu State award
Sangeet Natak Akademi - National Presidential award (1998-99)
Nritya Chudamani - Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai
Natya Kala Shikamani - Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai
Natya Kala Shiromani - Nungambakkam Cultural Academy, Chennai
Natya Ratna - Shanmukananda Sabha, New Delhi
Natya Kala Ratna - Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Coimbatore
Sringar Mani - Sur Singar Samsad, Bombay
Lakshmi has served as an elected Vice President of the Music academy,
for more than a decade. She has also been on the South Zone Cultural
Centre’s committee and is an advisory member of Bharat Kalachar.
As Vice-President and President of ABHAI (Association of Bharatanatyam Artists of India) - Lakshmi founded the first MAMALLAPURAM DANCE FESTIVAL in 1991.
Lakshmi has served on the committees of AIR and DOORDARSHAN, Kalakshetra
Quarterly, and Kalakshetra Golden Jubilee celebrations at the
invitation of Rukmini Devi.
SUMMING UP - ARTIST OF THE RENAISSANCE:
Lakshmi Viswanathan is a leading artist of the renaissance of Dance in
India. Born in 1944 she has dedicated a major part of her life to dance,
and has been the recipient of innumerable titles and some significant
awards. She has been an earnest votary of both classical music and dance
and has strived to maintain the tradition of Bharatanatyam in its
classical texture and style. Being an innovative artist, Lakshmi has
mastered a vast repertoire of over hundred dances. She has used her
imagination to choreograph new themes based on her research. Moving away
from mythology she scripted and choreographed oath breaking shows with,
the history of dance, in Banyan Tree, and a famous artist's biography
in Vidya Sundari. A leading cultural icon of India Lakshmi has taken
the art of dance to great heights of appreciation, understanding and