Kalakshetra alumni and Kazakh nationals Damir and Tatyana honor the legacy of Rukmini Devi

Damir and Tatyana performing on February 24, 2024, at the Theatre at St. Jean in New York City. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

New York City: Damir Tasmagambetov and Tatyana Popova, from Kazakhstan, both alumni of the Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai, India, presented an impressive Bharatanatyam performance, “The Fragrance of a Legend” on February 24, 2024, at the Theatre at St. Jean, to honor the legacy of Padma Bhushan recipient Rukmini Devi Arundale on her 120th Birth Anniversary celebrations.

The two dancers joined hands in 2017, and have been teaching and performing across New York and New Jersey in collaboration with organizations such as, City Lore, Arts Horizons, and Joffrey Ballet. Currently, they manage two centers in NY and NJ areas and instruct Bharatanatyam to over 200 students.

Rukmini Devi, founder of Kalakshetra, was the first woman to be nominated for Rajya Sabha, upper house of Indian Parliament, in 1952. In 1977, then Prime Minister of India, Moraji Desai nominated her for the position of President of India, but she declined the offer because “she believed that the art and the institution needed her complete attention.”

Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Ruchira Kamboj, along with Damir, Tatyana, and others on February 24, 2024, at the Theatre at St. Jean in New York City. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

The event, which showcased the “rich cultural heritage and artistic traditions” of India and its core message “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the world is one family” was supported by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations.

“This is what we believe an enchanting tribute to the legendary Rukmini Devi Arundale, whose life was a symphony of grace, dedication, and transformative vision,” noted Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Ruchira Kamboj, who was the Chief Guest at the event. “And as we gathered to celebrate the magnificence of Bharatanatyam, which is an Indian classical art form, we also pay homage to a woman who redefined this ancient art form, elevating it to a global stature and embedding it deeply into the cultural lexicon of our nation.”

Congratulating Damir and Tatyana, Kamboj said, “This is a very unique performance, because these performers are not Indian. They are of Kazakh nationality. But they have studied this art form in India in Kalakshetra, which was set up by Rukmini Devi.”

Damir and Tatyana graduated from the Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts, Kalakshetra Foundation, through a six-year scholarship they received from the Indian Council of Cultural Relations.

About the event, they told News India Times, “We are filled with gratitude towards our beloved Athai [aunt] for imparting us with the invaluable skill that we hold in our hands today. It is with immense reverence and humility that we embarked on this journey to pay tribute to her extraordinary legacy.”

“Through our performance, we sought to encapsulate the essence of Rukmini Devi’s pioneering spirit, her unwavering dedication to the preservation of Indian classical dance forms, and her profound belief in the transformative power of art,” added the duo who pledged to continue honoring Rukmini Devi.

Also present at the event was Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, Akan Rakhmetullin, who told News India Times, “It’s a great pleasure and honor to be at the event. I am a professional diplomat and the first ever country I visited was India. I love Indian culture and Indian people. Today, it was a great opportunity to witness the renowned Indian art form. It was also very symbolic since it was performed by Kazakh citizens. I am very proud.”

Board Member of the Indo-American Arts Council, Jaishri Kapoor, delivered a message from her uncle Dr. R.V. Ramani, congratulating the duo on the occasion. Kapoor who had met Rukmini Devi when she was 16 years old in Chennai, said both her uncle Dr. Ramani and aunt Shakuntala “were dear friends of hers [Rukmini Devi’s] for many, many decades. And they were very closely involved with her at Kalakshetra and expanding its work.”

The greetings from Kapoor’s uncle said “I extend my good wishes and blessings to Damir and Tatyana on this landmark occasion of Rukmini Devi’s 120th birthday. It is indeed praiseworthy that Damir and Tatyana are carrying Rukmini Devi’s legacy forward and inculcating the Kalakshetra ethos in their students…”



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