Priyadarsini Govind and Nrityagram Dance Ensemble offer intense Indian dance
To be a skilled performer of classical Indian dance is to be a master of subtlety and detail. It's a genre in which sweeping narratives somehow manage to unspool through tiny but highly specific movements like a sharply bowed finger or a knowing lift of the brow.
In their performance Sunday at the Kennedy Center, Priyadarsini Govind and the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble showed how intensely expressive this nuanced style can be.
Govind is a stunning and committed dancer who does not just play a character but utterly disappears into one. Each movement seems to come directly from her gut and hits you straight in yours.
In "Padam" - the second portion of her four-part solo, "Margam" - she takes on the role of a mother looking for her son's dead body on a battlefield. When she finds him, she drops to her knees, and a furious torrent of gestures brings into focus a gamut of emotions - pride in her child's heroism, anger at his killer, sadness for her loss. Govind tenderly makes a cradle with her arms as though she's holding the boy, and it's so deliberate and so lifelike that you can almost see him in her empty embrace.
As devastating as she is in that section, Govind is wickedly funny in the next, a javali, or lighthearted, expressive piece. In "Javali 'Nee Matale Mayanura,' " she plays a woman fed up with her lover and his penchant for making promises he can't keep. Her darting arms, feverishly thumping feet and wry half-smiles build up to the ultimate kiss-off: She mimes bolting multiple locks on a door and effectively shuts him out of her life (to hearty laughter and cheers from the audience).
Nrityagram took the stage after intermission with a work called "Sriyah: A decade of dance making." The troupe's dancing had a more sensuous, fluid quality to it, and the artists exhibited commendable control during the piece's myriad one-footed balances. This group wasn't as intoxicating as Govind, but its dancing was refined and unflappably strong.