(Kamala Lakshman in Konjum Salangai (1962))
I’ve found a lot of good info about Kamala Lakshman, starting with the Web site for her dance school, Sri Bharata Kamalalaya. The school holds classes on Long Island (where she lives), as well in Westchester and in three different towns in New Jersey.
The front page of the Web site has the current date on it, but most of the information on this site doesn’t seem to have been posted after about 2003. Still, assuming that all the information is still applicable…
It tells us that Kamala is also involved in another school on Long Island, SUNY at Stony Brook, where she is an Adjunct Professor of Indian Classical Dance. And she teaches a class in bharatanatyam at the school’s Center for Indian Studies every fall.
That’s Kamala now, if anybody wants to take classes with her.
There’s also lots of good info on the site about Kamala then…
Such as the fact that she “enthralled” both Marshal Tito and Dwight D. Eisenhower!
The foremost exponent of the Vazhuvoor tradition of Bharata Natyam, Padmabushan Kamala is the ideal combination of Dancer and Guru. Her career in dancing has been a long and illustrious one. A recipient of the prestigious Padmabushan award from the President of India, she has performed extensively in India and abroad, serving as cultural ambassador of international acclaim. She performed at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and enthralled many dignitaries including Jawaharlal Nehru, S. Radhakrishnan, President Eisenhower, Prime Minister Chau Enlai and Marshal Tito, and the King of Jordan. She has been honored with several titles and has established a dance school, “Sri Bharata Kamalalaya.”
My favorite thing about this site is that it provides links to two very good articles on Kamala in the magazine Sruti. The first article talks more about her life, accomplishments, trials and travails, while the second article is more focused on her style of bharatanatyam and other specific aspects of her dance. The articles are posted as photos of pages, not actual text, so it might be impossible or very difficult to print out in a readable version (I know I couldn’t). However, they are still very readable on screen once you click on the individual pages.
Being that I am not all that versed at this point in the technical aspects of the dances, I particularly enjoyed the earlier article. In addition to having a bunch of great pictures (as does the other article), it’s got a fascinating narrative covering many different stages, including her rise to stardom as a kathak dancer at the age of five, the roles that she played in classic Indian cinema, and her days as an experienced dance guru in the U.S.
But the most interesting moment of the article, not surprisingly, is when it discusses the major part she played during the 1940s in the revival and transformation of bharatanatyam:
It was Kamala who transformed, almost overnight, the loathesome into the laudable. The timing was perfect. The conditions ideal. And her age was just right. She was still a child, a “baby,” and her innocence and charm endeared her to one and all. In addition she possessed the required blend of glamour and appeal that rendered Bharatanatyam a vitally alive art form contemporary relevance.
It was not just the mothers who looked upon their daughters as Kamalas in the making. K.M. Rangaswamy who has interviewed numerous dancers says that 99 percent of them admitted to having been inspired by Kamala.
The circle of audience for this art form swelled from a few hundreds to thousands to hundreds of thousands in course of time as Kamala’s dance sequences became one of the standard ingredients to a successful Tamil film.
Kamala – great dancer with a great story too.