By Laxmi Raman
We witnessed a unique arungetram, the dance debut of Govind Pillai recently. As the invocation in Simehendra madhyama ragam concluded the dancer leapt on to the stage as if from the heavens. It was a swift graceful landing promising a great performance to follow.The kauthvam in Gurjari Ragam, Mishra Chapu thalam was an unusual piece in Tamizh in praise of Lord of Eastern direction Indra. The varnam is the most challenging and difficult piece in a bharathanatyam repertoire. Yet, Govind reached himalayan heights having removed all the obstacles with the antiques of Lord Ganesha. Again another unexpected piece. Here all credit goes to the Guru Hamsa Venkat for her choice of items and excellent choreography.
The interval was followed by a Keerthavam in praise of the goddess Shri Rajarajeshwari. Govind ability to portray the mellinam or the feminine aspect of a beautiful compassionate Goddess was exceptional only as he could do it. The Ashtapadi which followed bringing forth the pathos of separation of the lovers Radha and Krishna ended in a suspense. Govind did his Guru proud in the performance of this Ashtapadi. The bhajan Shankara Shri Guru of Swati Thirunal in praise of Lord Nataraja the Lord of Dance was portrayed by Govind through statuesque elegant postures. In this item Govind brought out the masculine beauty and grace of Nataraja.
The devotional depiction of Lord Ayyappa was a big hit amongst the audience and spectators – Why ? Here we have to make a special mention of the vocalist Prema Ananthakrishnan, who sang this song with great devotion to match every emotive expression of Govind. The finale was the thillana in praise of Rama Bhakthar, Hanuman. In this piece Govind did full justice in rhythm and flowing movements to prove that he has a great future ahead of him. The mangalam in Ragam Shurutti touched our hearts and left us happy. Balaji Jagannathan’s violin provided exceptional supporting melodic dimension to the music of the evening. The rhythmic support given by Bala Sankar was creative and exceptional. Kudos to the Guru Hamsa Venkat, the Disciple, Govind Pillai, the supporting musicians, all who brought a memorable Arungetram which shall linger in our minds in years to come.
Govind Pillai Speaks to Sydhwaney:
“Smart!… Interesting!.. Quite Charismatic !! ..mmm almost beautiful !! .. Enthralling !!!..WOW,..Dear me, Touchy … I am close to tears … Gee..
This is what I felt while watching Govind Pillai dance through the many items in his Arungetram. I had arrived late to the performance, rushed in to settle down and was surprised at being swept away by Govind Pillai’s youthful energy and nimble footwork. Petite and almost demure Govind Pillai’s debut performance at the Science Theatre definitely stole hearts. If there is one other thing that spilled across the stage at this performance it was Govind Pillai’s concentrated passion for the artform and complete love for it. Tutored with equal dedication by Sydney’s well recognized dancer, Hamsa Venkat, Govind Pillai brought the house to tears and left many excited. One among the audience said “I have never seen an Arungetram in Sydney like this before”.
Having said that I would like to stop here instead of going into a long sojourn of what items he performed. Most of those who are reading this article would have been at the dance and I do not see any reason for repeating all that went before. Instead I asked Young Govind:
Why dance Govind while the rest of the boys are playing with cars and a bat? as a child, I was very active and I loved to move, even if it meant jumping off the sofa! But there are many ways to enjoy the experience of movement: there is sport, there is gymnastics, and of course, there is dance. I tried many of these options, but was naturally attracted to dance from a young age because I found dance to be a perfect blend of the athletic, the aesthetic and the artistic. Bharatanatyam was especially appealing as I felt it had equal measure of all three.
What tips do you have to give to others who are preparing for their arungetram ? My tip to other debutantes is when you enter the stage, forget everything on your birth certificate, forget your name, your age, your gender. You are not the usual Joe, You are a dancer. Just as your body must mould into various postures and positions, your soul must be clear of identity and ready to mould into the persona, and into the emotions of the character you portray. Leave yourself behind. Be someone new, on stage it is your world to create.
The items and their selection? You obviously picked them because they appealed to you but why ?
Hamsa Venkat, my teacher and Guru worked with me over a period of time to explore the ideas that were closest to our hearts, and translate them into dance items. For example, she was quite keen to explore stories of Ganesha through the varnam, which we discovered is not all that common. For my part I wanted a deeply emotional piece to expose how a male experiences melancholy (leading to the Jayadeva Ashtapadi). I also wanted Hanuman to feature somewhere in the repertoire as he represents something special to both of us, the Thillana was the best place to explore this and bring it to life. It was very much a collaborative journey where we both searched and hand-picked our favourites to create this a choreographed mosaic of dance. We were blessed with such talented musicians which complimented the dance beautifully.
If there is one thing you would have done differently what would it be ?
One thing I would do differently, is to study the physics of dance. I think dancers can benefit from understanding the physics of motion, movement and balance. There is a great book I saw on amazon.com called “The Physics of Dance” and I think it will be the next book I read out of curiosity. Many of the best musicians understand the theories of sound, of resonance, of frequency and modulation. So why shouldn’t dancers attempt to understand (or at least ponder) theories of movement, balance and kinetics? Somehow I feel it may improve, or at least inspire, our technique.
Do you like modern dances ? I love alternative styles of dance as much as I love bharatanatyam. I watch a lot of ballet and contemporary western dance. Although, I am not a great fan of bollywood dancing as I just can’t wriggle my body like that! Seriously though, exploring alternative forms of dance has shown me that no matter what “language” of dance we speak: bharatanatyam, kuchipudi, ballet, jazz…..we are all exploring the same thing. We are exploring how we can use our bodies to turn a bit of three dimensional space, into a whole new world.
Well that indeed is something to think about.