From France,with love...

For Paris Laxmi, the 26-year-old artiste who specialises in bharatanatyam, India is home and dance, her first love

Dancer Paris Laxmi with her artiste husband

The words ‘Paris’ and ‘Laxmi’ bring to mind two worlds that are poles apart, but Paris Laxmi, the multifaceted artiste’s life is a confluence of two cultures. Speaking in between days packed with dance rehearsals and discussions for upcoming movie projects, the French lilt in her Malayalam, after so many years in Kerala, is hardly noticeable.

Based in Vaikom, a town in Kottayam, Kerala with husband and kathakali artiste Pallipuram Sunil, Laxmi is rehearsing for two performances that she has on the same day. “It rarely happens!” she says. “One is a bharatanatyam performance with odissi dancer Abhayalakshmi, who is my best friend. In the evening, it will be a Flamenco dance for Arunima Gupta’s annual event called ‘Dance’A’Fair’ in Kochi.” 

Enter the films

While she first appeared on the silver screen in the Mammootty-starrer Big B for a dance number, it was as the teasing bharatanatyam dancer Michelle in Bangalore Days, albeit with just a few scenes, that she truly won hearts. In the last few years, Laxmi has appeared in six films. “I like the challenge in each performance,” she says. “I would love to do action, be the villain or comedienne, characters that are mentally or physically-challenged, something new each time.” As she talks, there’s that laughter again, reminiscent of when Michelle teases Nivin Pauly’s traditional Malayali Kuttan in Bangalore Days. Off-screen too, the 26-year-old sports a smattering of sindoor on the parting of her long hair, kohl-lined eyes, and a bindi. Laxmi’s dance performances are captivating, her sense of taala and abhinaya one of perfect synchronisation. “I basically love shifting from one character to another.”

This fluidity, possible in bharatanatyam, is an added advantage when performing with Sunil. Kathakali requires the performer to stay in character throughout. It was after a warmly received, impromptu collaborative performance in France that the couple explored more stories, mostly centred on Lord Krishna, to narrate together. Sunil plays Krishna while Laxmi takes on varied roles revolving around the tales of Krishna. They have since performed the duet, Krishnamayam, on more than 50 stages so far.

Of all the veshas (characters) Sunil plays on stage, Krishna is Laxmi’s favourite. Incidentally, it is in the same vesha that she, then seven, first saw Sunil perform in Fort Kochi. “I was amazed by the performers but it was Sunil, the youngest of them all, who stayed on my mind.”

Laxmi met Sunil again 10 years later. Frequent interactions and a mutual love of dance steeled an association so deep that it eventually led to marriage with Sunil, 14 years her senior.

The love for bharatanatyam and all-things-India are what Laxmi took back to France from her family trips to India as a child who was already besotted with dance. “Whenever I would watch a dancer performing, I used to recreate the movements and ask my parents that I be enrolled for classes. I wanted to learn Flamenco after watching a performance, but as I was only three, no teacher would take me on as a student.” But learn she did, beginning with contemporary dance, followed by jazz and ballet. She was also regaled with stories from Indian mythology by her sculptor mum Patricia Quinio. “My mother would tell me stories of Ganesha, Shiva and Parvati, Rama and Sita, apart from those of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, the saint Bernadette of Lourdes and others,” Laxmi says.

Laxmi’s father, theatre artiste and poet Yves Quinio, first visited India in the early 80s, Patricia accompanying him later on. The couple was so taken in by the Hindu culture that they named their daughter Myriam Sophia Laksmi and son Theo Elie Narayan. At the age of five, when she finally set foot in India, Laxmi was no stranger to the land or its many gods. The trips to India became a frequent affair for the family, first during the holidays and then for periods extending up to a year. Her exposure to Indian classical dances began then.

Born and raised in Aix-en-Provence, transitioning to life in Kerala, post-marriage, has been relatively easy for Laxmi as she finds the environs similar. “I am right at home here,” she notes. It is her brother Theo, a percussionist, whose guru Thiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam who suggested that she make the addition of ‘Paris’ to keep the French connection.

One for all

In 2012, Laxmi and Sunil founded Kalashakti School of Arts in Vaikom. With over 100 students, the institute is a space where the couple is keen to pass on their love for kathakali and bharatanatyam with the same time and dedication that has been traditionally required to master them. “It cannot be taught quickly,” she says. Workshops on other dance forms are held often at the school. Laxmi hopes to have a larger space that includes more teachers and art forms.

Laxmi’s own training has been an intense journey, a far cry from the hurried lessons that are sought out today. In France, Laxmi started learning bharatnatyam under Armelle Choquard and later, Dominique Delorme, who were both disciples of V S Muthuswami Pillai. Laxmi then moved to Pune where she trained under Dr Sucheta Chapekar, who also taught Choquard, and then Dr Padma Subramanyam, in Chennai. She believes it is up to each artiste to make one’s unique mark in his or her field. “I love dance, to experience different styles and try new things.”

Laxmi’s day begins with yoga, followed by practice of bharatanatyam pieces from her repertoire or any other dance form depending on the programmes lined up. Her evenings are devoted to choreography and research on new concepts. 

“I am happy when I dance. Being on stage gives me a sense of security,” she avers and there’s no doubting that for when Laxmi takes to the stage, she holds the audience spellbound.

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From France,with love...

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