She may have spent four grueling years studying ballet and modern dance at The Boston Conservatory, and many more practicing Bharatanatyam, but Rukmini Vijayakumar just can’t seem to dodge the question, “You’re a dancer, yes, but what do you do?”
The elfin Bengaluru-native is the artistic director of the Bharatanatyam dance company Raadha Kalpa. Most recently, she toured Washington DC and New York with Prabhavati, a love story adapted from a 16th-century Telugu novel. When she isn’t choreographing shows, the New York Film Academy graduate juggles acting assignments – you’ll see her play Rajinikanth’s sister in Kochadaiiyaan, directed by his daughter Soundarya. (Vijayakumar shot a dance sequence, of course.)
Films may have been a gradual development in the twenty-somethings career, but dance has possessed her from the time she was five. It’s the form of storytelling, histrionic yet meticulous, that she finds most riveting. The decision to stage Prabhavati alone, for example, took intense research. She spent months scouring the Mahabharata and tomes by Kabir and Jayadeva and enlisted the help of a Sanskrit scholar before zeroing in on it. Vijayakumar leans towards a “traditional vocabulary” in her dance and uses katanas, an ancient form of movement that “looks like pilates and involves high kicks”.
Her approach might be theoretical, but she knows to give her imagination free rein. “When I’m on stage, I see it populated with my characters. It’s only when I go back to the video recording that I see myself dancing – alone.”