Interview Priyadarsini Govind on her philosophy of dance. Anjana Rajan

I t seems like yesterday that India celebrated the golden jubilee of independence and double-billed programmes organised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi ran daily, featuring just about all of India's senior most artistes as well as some junior ones as the country celebrated 50 years of artistic endeavour as a sovereign nation. It was on a particularly rain drenched evening of 1997, in a hall not easily reached, the Air Force auditorium in Subroto Park, that a small crowd gathered to watch one of the younger featured artistes, Bharatanatyam dancer Priyadarsini Govind. A disciple of Gurus Kalanidhi Narayanan Swamimalai K. Rajaratnam, she left an indelible impression, the outer persona reflective of a soothing inner stillness. Today that dancer commands a dedicated fan club.

Once a lesser known artiste who left a corporate career to follow her heart that was firmly ensconced in the dance world since childhood, Priyadarsini's personal idiom has become a brand within Bharatanatyam. While her abhinaya never stopped drawing admirers, she forcefully brought her nritta technique into focus as she intrepidly experimented with movement, playing with rhythm, form and content. In this interview, the dancer, who was recently in the Capital to perform for Nritya Bharati, a festival organised by Sri Geetagovinda Pratisthana, Puducherry, speaks about how her outlook on dance was formed and the directions she has taken. Edited excerpts:

On her to approach abhinaya

My training and technique in abhinaya has been shaped by my guru (in abhinaya). We were encouraged to think about and analyse the characters and situations we were portraying. What has always been considered sacred is the intention of the poet and the limitless quality of human imagination. Abhinaya is highly individualistic and is shaped by each person's experiences and ability to absorb and communicate. When I work on a piece, my focus is on bringing the written poetry alive visually. I divide the piece into (1) the opening/introduction, (2) the body, (3) the conclusion. I like unexpected twists (if the poet's lines allow it) and try and make sure the piece is like a short story complete by itself. When I work on the characters, of course one relates it to people and situations one has seen or one can imagine.

How Kalanidhi Narayanan shaped her views

Since I started learning abhinaya from Mami at the age of nine, to a large extent my approach to dance itself has been shaped by her. When we learn a composition, a line is taken, different ideas for the line are discussed at length in class and Mami will demonstrate but never insist that we copy her glance for glance.

On guiding principles in choreographing new work and what constitutes innovation as opposed to breaking out of the form

I think the base we all work on is the way we have been trained both physically and mentally. I feel Bharatanatyam as a form has so many possibilities which makes the artist's responsibility that much more important. At one time, I loved challenging myself physically. Jumps, floor movements, rapid twists and rigorous nritta seemed thrilling. Now my focus has changed. I feel that as an artiste one has to be aware of what is appropriate for the stage, for one's physical and mental abilities and the composition's demands are sacred and should guide the artiste. Since there is so much disparity in training in Bharatanatyam, I cannot make a comment on what is the form and what is outside the form.

New projects

I am working on some pieces that are new for me and a couple of exciting projects. I'm doing a show with Bombay Jayashri in Mumbai and Chennai. By April one of my DVDs on one margam will come out. In December the DVDs on tillanas and abhinaya came out. These are brought out by eParampara.

On DVD technology in learning dance

It is absolutely true that one cannot learn only from DVDs. In our arts, the students definitely need a guru. The DVDs are meant more as a source of information especially for those who don't have access. In Chennai, we take the accessibility to our teachers and other sources of learning for granted. These DVDs are meant as sources of information, as an encouragement to young students and young teachers. Say somebody wants to pick up songs. They can get them here. We explain a bit, we de-codify the structure (of a particular composition, say, jatiswaram or tillana, etc). The idea is to give you a very basic idea of the composition. You can't learn the adavu or the dance from it, but the idea is to present a source for people. You get a reference: there are these tillanas available, these are the kinds of abhinaya songs, etc.

On the notion that it is more important to be a ‘star' than a genuine artiste to get invitations to perform, to get sponsors, etc.

Firstly I don't think that the terms “star” and “genuine artiste” are mutually exclusive. A star quality is definitely important for a performer. To me a star quality is not about glamour but more about the transformative and transcendental quality of a dancer. Maintaining oneself physically and nurturing oneself mentally is very important for every artiste. When I think about how I want to grow, it is definitely as an artiste. All other things are incidental.

When I work on a piece, my focus is on bringing the written poetry alive visually