Moving poetry on stage

Priyadarsini Govind graces the Israel Festival with one of India's oldest dance forms.

priyadarsini govind 88 2 (photo credit: )
priyadarsini govind 88 2
(photo credit: )
A spotlight follows Priyadarsini Govind as she moves with assured and confident grace through the precise intricacies of Bharatanatyam. Govind will display this ancient South Indian dance form in her Israel Festival debut at Gerard Behar on May 30. "This will be my first time in Israel," Govind told The Jerusalem Post prior to her arrival, "and I am thrilled and waiting to see your land." Bharatanatyam is more than 2000 years old, indeed the oldest of the many Indian dance forms. One legend has it that the gods and goddesses asked Brahma to create a form of heavenly expression that ordinary people could understand because the scriptures were too difficult. He agreed and Bharatanatyam evolved. In this, as in all Indian dance, each movement, each gesture, each facial expression and glance have an exact meaning that the lyrics and the music complement. "All classical arts in India are spiritual in their intent and content, and the space occupied by the dancer is sacred," says Govind. "All the arts are interrelated and are considered an inward journey using the physical form as the medium." Born and raised in Chennai, the capital city of Tamilnadu in Southern India, Govind started to learn dance at six years old and made her first public appearance at nine. "My mother is very interested in the arts," she says, "and she made sure I had the best teachers and the best training." By the time she was 13, Govind had already decided that she would become a Bharatanatyam dancer, a decision inspired by her teachers who "were both visionaries and very dedicated to the arts and to their students. They opened up a world of such beauty that my choice was natural." From one teacher Govind learned nritta or pure dance "which is training your body to create patterns in space," and from the other she absorbed abhinaya or expressiveness, "where you bring to visual life poetry on stage using the body, but mainly the face and predominantly the eyes." The initial training period is at least four years, "but for an artist, training never ends. Since this is an inward journey, life, experiences, sensibilities and maturity play a very important role. We have great artists who are still performing at 70. An Indian artist is usually at her peak in her forties." The dances tell a story, usually one involving gods and/or mortals, and often inspired by Hindu mythology. Govind explains that "the classical arts in India are very rich in poetry for music and dance. [Poets] have a very special relationship with the gods of the Hindu pantheon, very intimate and passionate. The emotions expressed are universal, going beyond geographical, cultural or linguistic barriers." She agrees that Western pop culture has eaten into the popularity of the classical art forms, especially among the young, but "despite this, in southern India especially, children are taught music and dance at a very young age, and whether they pursue this or not, the awareness has been built." On stage Govind's eyes are ringed with kohl to enhance their brilliance, the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet are painted with a red color called altha "to enhance beauty," and she wears a traditional costume that was developed "keeping in mind the form of the dance." Once Govind made her first appearance, there was no holding her back, and she quickly became famous in India and beyond as one of the finest current interpreters of Bharatanatyam. She still lives in Chennai with her husband and their two children, neither of whom have chosen dance as a profession. Govind's 13 year-old son is learning a percussion instrument called mridangam and her 18 year-old daughter is studying art. "They are my best critics," she laughs.