Priyadarsini Govind - Soloist, Nritayagram Dance - Ensemble
Kennedy Center's Maximum India Festival
March 6, 2011
by George Jackson
copyright 2011 by George Jackson
To put the enchanting, charismatic Govind on the same bill as three of Nritayagram's sensual suffragettes is like channelling a spring of pure mercury alongside flowing lava. In western parlance it is like co-programming an ala Russe ballerina, Danilova say, and a trio of Antony Tudor dancers. The training of these four women is in similar India styles of classical dance. In the one instance though, Govind's, the dancing is kept more traditional - step-based from a tensile stance. Her brand is Bharatanatyam but she's an individual example of that school. In the other instance, Nritayagram's, there is more movement fusion and the integration of alien vocabulary. Beyond technique, Govind seemed eloquently human and the Nritayagrams slightly cultish.
Storytelling seems her dancing's second nature. Govind became the main character in a grieving mother's tale and again in an anecdote about flirtation. So expressive and reflective were her heroins that the stories' invisible characters also appeared. She starts with a recorded summary of the people and plot, and gives a mimed abstract of the action. The full pantomime that follows doesn't just develop key points but holds surprises. As dancer, mime and choreographer, Govind is a poet.
No phallic lamp stood on stage while the three Nritayagram women danced, but all their musicians were male. The religiousness that is the source of this dancing includes devotion and procreation. The heavier flow of movement than that of Govind's dancing may have several sources - the women's shorter and rounder bodies, the slow motion and careful coordination of many passages, the melding of steps, strong overhead lighting. While steps in India's classical dance vocabulary are often cousins to those of western ballet, Nritayagram sometimes does siblings. I'd not seen so full a rond d'jambe or stretched an attitude before in India dancing, and there was balancing with a hand resting for support on a partner.
This westerner would call the intriguingly, smoothly lusty Nritayagram a caractere/demicaractere classical company in spirit, not one that is nobly classical. A touch of the bizarre emanated from the joint and separate performances of the trio - Bijayini Satpathy, Pavithra Reddy, Surupa Sen - and from Sen's choreography.
Musically there have also been wonders during the dancing of Maximum India. The closest we have in western classical music are the longings and intimations of Gustav Mahler's scores, but India's composers are melancholy with much more economy. Thanks to Alicia Adams' savvy and sensitive planning of this festival!