Gait to the Spirit showcases the next generation of Indian classical dance
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear Mandala Arts and Culture’s Jai Govinda compare Indian classical dance to ballet: for years, the artist performed for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal before heading to India and immersing himself in bharata natyam.
Speaking to the Straight over the phone from his Vancouver studio, he is explaining how big a star Sujata Mohapatra is, the odissi specialist that will come to his Gait to the Spirit festival at the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Saturday (October 19).
“She is today the prima ballerina of odissi,” he says, then carries on with the comparison. “She’s the daughter-in-law of the Balanchine of odissi, guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. And he was not only responsible for the revival of odissi, but his choreography has been performed all over the world. So it’s unbelievable that I was able to bring her here.”
This is Govinda’s skill: bringing his own passion and excitement for Indian classical dance across cultures, and giving us all touchstones for learning to enjoy the beautiful, hypnotic form.
It’s a form that’s thriving not only in India but in countries around the world, and reaching a new generation that is putting its own stamp on it. In the case of this Gait to the Spirit festival, Mohapatra is one of the faces of that generation, even though odissi’s revival has come later than that of bharata natyam’s.
“That’s why it’s less known,” says Govinda, adding there is no odissi school in Vancouver. “What people like in the odissi is the fluidity; the body always moves in three curves. It’s very feminine and this will show the style in all its female elegance.”
Elsewhere at the fest, he’s featuring two other young stars—ones that represent the way bharata natyam is catching on around the world. Female dancer Navia Natarajan hails from the U.S., while male dancer Bhavajan Kumar is originally from Canada, though they are both busy performers in India now. Together, they will present fresh choreography in bharata natyam on Friday night (October 18). Canadian kathak specialists Parul Gupta and the Nritya Manjaree Dancers round out the programming on Sunday (October 20).
Bringing in youthful stars like these is aimed not just at Vancouver dance lovers, but at Govinda’s own stable of young dancers at his Jai Govinda Dance Academy—where, with his student list 50 members strong, the form also seems to be thriving.
“I say half of the training is seeing: see how the best in the field do it,” says Govinda, who adds there are real opportunities for his grads to move on to professional troupes these days. Still, audience newbies are always welcome: “You don’t need to understand all the intricacies of the form to enjoy it. Even if you don’t like Indian classical dance, you can say you saw the best in the world.”
Gait to the Spirit takes place from Friday to Monday (October 18 to 21) at the Scotiabank Dance Centre.