Dancing with the stars…
Aniruddha Vasudevan grew up in Kumbakonam in central Tamil Nadu where he started learning Bharatanatyam in 1988 from Kuttalam M Selvam. After school, he moved to Chennai where he learnt from Chitra Visweswaran, a legendary performer and teacher. He talked to Udayan about his greatest passion in life.
Since when have you been interested in dance? Which are the dance forms you liked and took up?
My parents took me to this lovely institution called Janaranjani in Kumbakonam, where walking along a corridor, I saw Bharatanatyam classes going on, and a new teacher- a charming man in his thirties- was starting classes for the new kids. I saw him demonstrating a movement and the kids repeating it. I was bewitched. I told my parents that that was what I wanted to learn.
Any memorable incidents?
I cannot forget travelling by train to several places in India to perform with my friends at Chidambaram Academy, all students of Chitra Visweswaran. We have had some crazy experiences like having to board a running train still wearing full dance make-up! Hilarious ones.
Tell us about the performances you’ve given till now and your experiences there.
As a kid learning dance in Kumbakonam, I performed a lot. We constantly travelled to the cities and towns nearby to perform. At Chennai, I started performing with Chitra Visweswaran’s dance company at the Chidambaram Academy of Performing Arts. Then the solo performances followed. I have been travelling to the United States a lot in the past five years. I have worked with excellent groups like the Dakshina Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company and Kuchipudi Kalanidi in Washington, DC. I have been working with Lakshmi Sriraman, a wonderful friend and dancer based in Lexington, Kentucky. Last year, we created a work titled “And She Said…” It is based on the work on Tamil women poets on love and war.
What are the themes that you explore in your dance?
It is not always thematic. Sometimes, I am really happy performing the traditional solo repertoire of Bharatanatyam. My recent thematic work has been “Brihannala,” which is more of a storytelling piece that uses some dance and music. It is a solo narrative piece raising questions about gender, sexuality and desire using a mythological character as a reference point. With the Dakshina Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company, I worked on two pieces, one called “Ananyam” on love and peace, and on “Karna” a lyric-less piece on the mythological character Karna.
Apart from being a dancer, you’re a gay rights activist too…
Yes, in 2007, Padma Govindan, Anjana Raghavan and I started the Shakti Resource Center as a collective of activists, artists, everyday revolutionaries. Terrific activists and friends like Shakthi Nataraj, Asma and many others joined in and made important things happen – like taking initiative in organizing Chennai pride events, an LGBT peer counselor training programme. I am right now working on a set of essays in Tamil on gender and sexuality. I have been writing in Tamil for a while now, and earlier this year, along with my dear friend and fellow activist A Ponni, I edited an issue of “Maatruveli,” a Tamil academic journal. The entire issue was on sexualities.
So what’s next?
I am travelling in the US right now, performed at the 25th year gala of Trikone, a South Asian LGBT organization here. At the end of August, I performed “Brihannala” for “Queer Eye,” a film and performance festival organized by “The 3rd I” a South Asian film project in San Francisco. I have a lot more performances here in the US with my collaborator, Lakshmi Sriraman. I am looking forward to performing at Berea College, University of Kentucky and University of Montana.