Rukmini’s Aesthetic Walk Into ‘The Lady of Burma’


Give Rukmini Vijayakumar words. She builds silence. Give her space. She shapes a confluence of arts. Give her dialogue. She retells stories. Give the danceractorchoreographer some space marks and full stops. She unfurls sentences. 


The Lady of Burma. The Idea. 

A few years ago, acclaimed director Prakash Belawadi and I were discussing ideas. He suddenly thought of Aung San Suu Kyi and how she is one of the strongest Asian women. He thought Suu Kyi was an ideal subject to explore. We started researching and Prakash came across the play, Richard Shannon’s The Lady of Burma (performed recently). We decided to take it up.

Character. Preparation. Rehearsals

Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the most inspiring women I have ever come across. I read about her life while preparing for the play. I also read Freedom from Fear, and among other things, articles, blogs, videos and news clippings to know about the leader. Rehearsals for the first staging were long, tiring and emotionally draining, more than anything else. Now, the play is a part of me. I don’t need to remember blocking or remember positions or light or lines. I can just try to embody her spirit. It has become better over time.


I am alone on stage. I also speak the entire time. I never feel like it is a monologue. Somehow, the word monologue gives a feeling that I am talking continuously to myself. In The Lady of Burma, technically, I am alone on stage talking by myself the entire time. But, I am within many things, talking to many people at many different times, just as we do in dance. I never feel like I am alone, or that it is a monologue.

Mindscapes. Travel. 

It is very difficult to have two very demanding performances be in your mind at once. I didn’t have any time to think or work on the The Lady of Burma while touring in New York City, Westchester, Austin, San Francisco and Toronto, a couple of months ago. I was running lines in my head for the play a day after finishing six hectic dance performances. I wanted to take The Lady of Burma to a good place. The ‘Charukeshi Varnam’ and ‘Sri Ramachandra’ were all I thought about and listened to during my tour.

Movement. Nritya. Natya. Silence

Movement exists in theatre, and I know, my training in dance helps me move well in theatre. Even when I am not dancing, I am able to find control within my physicality to access my emotions. In classical Indian dance, theatre is a part, in general. It is stylised and uses a prescribed gestural vocabulary, but it still is theatre in the fact that it tells a story. Although we do not speak in Bharatanatyam, I feel that there exists a seamless blend of dance and theatre within it. Every time I dance, teach dance and perform, I evolve. It is a natural process.


Musicality is largely an emotional response in the beginning. The intellectual breaking down of rhythm comes second.

Overwhelmed. Aesthetics. Performing arts.

I am overwhelmed by art. I am very inconsequential in reality. The dance and theatre are everything. Everyday leads to new discoveries and often I find myself aware of a knowledge I didn’t know existed within me. The dance is always larger than me. I am too close to it, but I certainly am humbled by art everyday. Most of my choreography comes from moving myself and seeing what comes out.

Timing. Theatre.

It is different than in dance when we think of dance as a physical movement. Let us, for one moment, separate dance and theatre, one from the other, for the purpose of observation as communication through physicality and communication through words. In this context, emotion is the ultimate goal. Dance achieves it through the right timing of physicality — with words as support. Theatre achieves it through the right timing of words with physical support.

Rhythm. Spaces.

In dance, it is the rhythm of the movement and music that guides the emotional peak. In theatre, the rhythm of words guides the movement, as well as the emotional peak. In theatre, movement may also result in words, but the entire emotion is not conveyed by stylised gesture like in dance. I think I have found layers to my dance and discovered an ability to speak in stillness. I have become more comfortable with taking time.

Beauty. Sringara. 

Beauty in Bharatanatyam comes from a particular time period. Even the gestures and stylisation of movement are from that. Though it has changed over the years, the essence still remains connected to that time. Theatre, on the other hand, has changed. Adornment was valued at a particular time and is considered beautiful. The aesthetic preferences today consider the lack of adornment as beautiful. I am not sure if theatre deconstructs beauty. It definitely is unadorned, possibly, because of the aesthetic preferences and the understanding of beauty today.

Students. Responses.

They (students) keep me on my toes. I need to re-evaluate my ideas and perceptions; learn more in order to communicate effectively and need to break down things that I do by intuition.

Acting. Dancing. Difficulties. Life 

We are all actors. We play different roles in life. As wife, friend, daughter, teacher, choreographer. We are different in each role. We constantly strive to find ourselves separate of this role. We do not want to be defined by this role, limited by it and confined to it. As dancers and actors, we do the same thing. It is the same as life. We have something to learn from it. Finally, we are everything and nothing. We enjoy it while it lasts and then we have to let go and move on, continuing to search for what we really are.

Slate. Cleaning.

I revel in the building up. It is all in the layers. The more layers I have, the more depth. I like the lack of words in performance. It all lies within the eyes. When I am not dancing, I spend most of my time running, doing yoga, walking around the city.





— Sumati Mehrishi 


(Pictures sourced from Rukmini Vijayakumar)