Ballet to Bharatanatyam: The Journey of a French Woman Who Fell in Love with India
From frequent childhood trips to India, this French woman became fascinated by the culture and art. Today, she is a prominent Bharatanatyam dancer.
Ever since she was a little girl, all she wanted to do was dance. There was no question of what, or why. She just knew that she was born to be a dancer—and dance she did.
Born Myriam Sophia Lakshmi Quinio, in Aix-en-Provence in France, Paris Laxmi (as she is famously known today) was part of a family whose life was rooted in art. Her father was a drama artist, and her mother was a sculptor.
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As a child, her mother would often tell her stories of the Hindu gods, Shiva and Parvati, Krishna and Radha, alongside the stories of Jesus and the saints. It was something which stayed with her as she grew up, and she became fascinated with the culture of India.
Laxmi was five years old when she made her first visit to India, along with her family. It would be an integral part of her upbringing.
“The connection my family and I have with India is difficult to explain. It’s like this natural feeling that we are home here. We feel moved by the culture. This is our favourite place,” she says, speaking to The Better India.
Every year, her parents would bring a young Laxmi and her brother to India, where they would stay for two months. Once or twice, the family would even extend their stay for up to a year. They would often interact with the local people, everywhere they went.
“What shocked me a lot as a child was how simple and poor people were so generous to us,” she recalls.
One of her fondest memories of her early days in India was when she befriended a tribal girl, who was a few years her senior, near Dehradun. Every day she would travel from her village to collect water from the tap located on the family compound. They didn’t speak the same language, but for the children, language was never a barrier. They played together every day, and soon the families became inseparable. On many occasions, they would invite Laxmi and her family over for food in their small mud house.
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“We would sit together, dance, and listen to Hindi songs. Over the years, we met them often, and once, she even gave me her silver anklets. I was extremely touched,” she says.
She was taking dance classes by the time she was 5, learning hip hop, ballet, jazz, flamenco, and contemporary dance. However, the continuous exposure to the art forms of India awakened in her a desire to be a part of that world.
At the age of 9, Laxmi began learning Bharatanatyam, under Armelle Choquard in France. She later also learned from Dominique Delorme.
“Indian classical dance forms are so deep and complex. The dancer needs so many qualities. It’s not only technical ability but also acting ability, sense of music, and sense of aesthetic. It is a very demanding form,” she explains.
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Her visits to India continued as she gradually grew into a dancer.
In fact, dance was what drew her to her future husband, Pallipuram Sunil, a famous Kathakali artist from Vaikom, Kerala.
She first met Sunil as a 7-year-old child—he was 21—and had already begun establishing his presence in the Kerala dance scene. The family would frequently visit the theatre at which he performed year after year, and the two became fast friends.
“He encouraged me to pursue dance and would arrange performances for me. I also invited him to France to collaborate on a duet, which we called Sangamam. Our friendship and our artistic views were what made us connect. It was then that we decided to marry.,” she says.
The two were married at the Vaikom temple in 2012 and opened their own dance school, Kalashakti in Vaikom. Sunil would teach Kathakali, while Laxmi taught Bharatanatyam. She began to choreograph her own pieces, and established herself as a prominent artist in Bharatanatyam.
From then on, there was no looking back. She has performed on hundreds of stages, including Vaikom Mahadeva Temple, Kerala Kalamandalam, and for the Kerala Tourism Department.
Among some of her original works is a collaboration with her husband, titled “Krishna Mayam”. It is an interplay between Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, telling stories from Lord Krishna’s life. Her husband portrays Lord Krishna, while she takes on different roles, including Radha and Draupadi. Recently, the production completed 50 shows, and has been met with acclaim!
However, Paris Laxmi’s success is not just limited to dance. She was brought to notice for her portrayal as Michele, in the 2014 Malayalam super-hit film, Bangalore Days. Her role was that of a foreign Bharatanatyam dancer, who was drawn to Indian tradition. Since then she has acted in over five films, across South India such as Olappeeppi and Salt Mango Tree.
“I love acting as much as I love to dance. I really don’t want to separate the two—they are two aspects of the same thing. I love to enter a character’s life and mind, it’s so interesting to feel yourself connected to another life and express someone else’s feelings through your body,” she says.
Rather than acting in glamorous roles, Laxmi loves roles which allow her to engage with them psychologically. She also likes physically demanding roles, as well as action scenes.
It’s safe to say that this woman has taken to Indian culture with finesse. She has even taught herself to speak Malayalam and now wants to learn Tamil and Hindi. Even then, sometimes she misses her home.
“I wouldn’t be as happy living in France as I am living in India. But if there’s one thing I miss, it is my friends and family that still live there,” she elaborates.
Her dream is to own a large space for dance and practice, as she continues to develop her own interesting projects. Above all, she strives to be a better dancer, always.
In the midst of practices, classes, and performances, has she ever felt overwhelmed?
She says, “Challenges keep on coming. That’s what keeps me going on. It’s a part of life. My biggest challenge is to be better than I was yesterday, and this never ends!”
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