Indian dancer left the business world to follow her vision to Lexington

rcopley@herald-leader.comAugust 29, 2013 

  • IF YOU GO

    Lakshmi Sriraman

    What: Performing Salangai, her show of Indian classical dance and music, accompanied by a live Indian orchestra.

    When: 7 p.m. Aug. 31

    Where: Singletary Center for the Arts' Recital Hall, 405 Rose St.

    Tickets: $13, $18. Available at Singletary Center ticket office, (859) 257-4929 and Singletarycenter.com.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Lakshmi Sriraman is dressed in a traditional Indian outfit, waiting for her orchestra to arrive.

She ushers visitors into the basement studio of a friend's house, reminding them to remove their shoes at the door. After the musicians arrive and have a quick bite of breakfast, the droning sound of an Indian lute called a tanpura — emanating from an app on singer Ramaa Pustakam's iPhone — fills the room. The other musicians join in, and Sriraman gets down to work, bringing the intricate, mathematically precise moves of Indian classical dance to life.

This is what a second career looks like to Sriraman, who left a successful career as a human resources consultant and moved to Lexington to pursue her dream of becoming a professional Bharata Natyam performer, teacher and choreographer.

It is a career that has allowed her to tour and work in the region and the nation. On Saturday night, she and the orchestra will perform at the Singletary Center for the Arts.

It's a far cry from her old life in jet-set corporate America.

"It was a consultant's job, so any time your client calls you, you are there and traveling all the time," Sriraman, 43, says. "So I was working 60, 70 hours a week and traveling all the time, and I think I got burned out because I was working for somebody else's vision. It was not my vision."

The birth of her son made Sriraman realize she needed to make a change, she says.

She had always dreamed of being a dancer but did not pursue it as a profession because financial constraints kept her from the performances and teachers she needed to reach a professional level. So she earned a master's degree in mathematics from Madras University in India and a master's of business administration from the University of Texas at El Paso, and then she went to work in Atlanta.

That is where she returned to dance

She had her professional debut at 33, still a young age for her form. While many Western dance forms including ballet emphasize youth, Sriraman says, Indian dance is different.

"All the top dancers in the world are in their 50s or 60s," she says. "That is because, there is technique, of course. And when you are young, you want to show off how fast you are and how precise you are. But then there is a totally different aspect to it.

"This is a narrative dance where you tell stories and become the characters."

To effectively do that and portray a wide variety of characters, she says, a dancer must have the experience that comes with age.

At her rehearsal Tuesday, Sriraman focuses mostly on character and the vital communication between her and the orchestra. Percussionists Janardhana Rao and Kathik Mani zone in on Sriraman's feet, and Pustakam tunes into her face so she can deliver a vocal to match Sriraman's expressions.

Though they have to travel to work with her, Sriraman's collaborators say it's worth it.

"A lot of people who perform this kind of dance emphasize how exotic it is," says Aniruddhan Vasudevan, a musician based in Austin, Texas, who take part in Saturday's performance but joined Tuesday's rehearsal via Skype. "Lakshmi approaches it as an artist and a storyteller."

Living in Lexington puts Sriraman far from musicians and teachers essential to her form. She travels to India annually to work with her teacher and has to time her performances to work with her orchestra when they come through the area on tour. But when she decided to leave the corporate world, Sriraman says, Lexington was an ideal base.

"I have friends here and I work with a spiritual group called Phoenix Institute," Sriraman says. "My husband travels, too, because he was also a consultant. So when we decided to move from Atlanta, we said, 'Let's move to Lexington. I have friends there.'

"The balance we have in our lives here we love. We have family time and a balance friends of mine who live in bigger cities don't have."

She also has the career she really wanted.


IF YOU GO

Lakshmi Sriraman

What: Performing Salangai, her show of Indian classical dance and music,accompanied by a live Indian orchestra.

When: 7 p.m. Aug. 31

Where: Singletary Center for the Arts' Recital Hall, 405 Rose St.

Tickets: $13, $18. Available at Singletary Center ticket office, (859) 257-4929 and Singletarycenter.com.

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: Copiousnotes.bloginky.com.

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