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Lakshmi Knight, 58; Classical Indian Dancer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lakshmi Knight, who performed and taught classical Indian dance in India and the U.S., has died. She was 58.

Lakshmi died of cancer in Chennai, India, on Dec. 23, members of the Indian dance community in Southern California confirmed this week.

As part of a centuries-old family legacy, she inherited a distinctive style of Bharata Natyam (one of India’s classical dance forms) from her mother, the legendary dancer Balasaraswati.

Sunil Kothari’s exhaustive 1997 book on Bharata Natyam cites her dancing for “an unusual combination of personal grace, technical discipline and talent for expression of deep emotions--the hallmark of Bala’s [Balasaraswati’s] tradition.”

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Lakshmi--who used only her given name professionally--was born Oct. 30, 1943, in Madras, India. “Generations of my whole family have been musicians and dancers,” she told the Albuquerque Journal in 1999. “I think I’m the eighth generation and my son, Anirhudda, is the ninth.” Other sources make her the ninth and her son the 10th, but at one time she had no interest in the family’s performing heritage and planned another kind of life.

She studied political science at college before asking her mother for dance training--and it wasn’t an easy decision, according to Judy Mitoma, director of the UCLA Center for Intercultural Performance.

“I watched her grow into a young adult resisting becoming a performing artist,” Mitoma told The Times, “and I was so moved when I saw that there was a point in her life when she realized that she couldn’t turn her back on it--the legacy of her family.”

“This was a wonderful thing that I was able to witness: her starting her training with her mother and developing into a great artist.”

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Lakshmi gave her first public concert of Bharata Natyam in Madras in 1972 and then performed throughout India and North America, giving performances in major venues and teaching extensively in this country. She received choreography and performance grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and served as the artistic director of the Balasaraswati School of Indian Music and Dance, an institution with branches in India and the United States.

As late as the beginning of 2001, when she was undergoing chemotherapy, Lakshmi danced with enough skill to cause a critic for the Indian publication the Hindu to write that “the striving for joy and defending of the joy of dance resounded powerfully in her performance.”

Award-winning locally based Bharata Natyam dancer and choreographer Ramaa Bharadvaj saw Lakshmi dance at UCLA in 1999. That performance, she told The Times, “really brought back my belief that solo dancing can be powerful and profound.”

“It reminded me of everything I’d heard about her mother,” Bharadvaj continued, “especially the quality of musicality. Lakshmi was a complete dancer, understanding perfectly how the movement and the music and the poetry all come together.”

In addition to her son, Lakshmi is survived by her husband, musician Douglas Knight Jr., an exponent of Indian classicism.


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