Smt. Priyadarsini Govind is a globally renowned bharatanatyam artist. A recipient of multiple awards, she is known for her adherence to abhinaya and nritta. In 2019, she, along with other artists, founded NavaDarshana. This community emphasizes a unique approach to choreography. This includes historicity, text and subtext content, and rhythmic details.

Injury prevention is often overlooked among Indian classical dancers. Thus, this community emphasizes body conditioning. NavaDarshana did its first summer residential dance intensive in 2019 at the beautiful Koinonia Retreat Center in Minnesota. Unfortunately, the pandemic halted this kind of intensive residency session. But the motivated and passionate NavaDarshana community continued their journey virtually.

Finally, in 2022 summer, with lots of precaution and planning, the in-person summer dance intensive happened in Edison, NJ. India Currents had the opportunity to interview Smt. Govind here. 

Smt. Priya Govind (Image Credit: Smt. Priya Govind)

IC: How is NavaDarshana different from other Indian classical arts organizations in the US?

PG: The idea is not about being different. As artists, we are not only learning compositions to dance to, but we look at it from every aspect, layer, and detail. We are creating a space where this is available under one umbrella.

IC: We see workshops, intensives, and lecture-demonstrations on bharatanatyam. Is there any scope to extend a similar opportunity beyond bharatanatyam?

PG: We plan to extend beyond one dance style, more towards Indian arts. Bringing allied arts like yoga, ancient Indian martial arts like kalaripayattu, or even learning Sanskrit are all future visionary ideas of NavaDarshana.

We started with a residency in bharatanatyam intensives. Depending on the level of interest, we want to bring other dance styles such as odissi, kuchipudi, kathak, and mohiniyattam.

IC: After the success of the 2019 Koinonia Residency Dance Intensive, how did NavaDarshana stay active during the pandemic lockdown? 

PG: I am not a big fan of online teaching. This is not because of delay in audio or video glitches, but because it lacks personal proximity. However, during the pandemic, we were forced to go virtual. We had sessions on ashtanayika, study sessions, natyabhangam sessions, lectures, conferences, theory study, community round-ups, and workshops on expressions. Unexpectedly, NavaDarshana has been very active past two years during the pandemic. 

IC. Do you find a difference interacting with artists from North America rather than Indian artists? 

PG: Culturally, the young second-generation Indian American dancers grew up wanting to remain in touch with their roots. They don’t see many things related to these dances outside their dance classes or community events. Culturally, they are divided between what they are used to in their daily life in schools and colleges, and what they learn in dance classes.

Interacting with the young generation is interesting for me. It is fascinating to be able to instill a passion for art in a profound holistic manner in these young Indian American dancers. They work hard to understand something that does not come naturally to them. Here, I refer to concepts, not movements. The lyrics and stories of these pieces originated in India.

In India, children are exposed to the culture daily, even if they are not exposed to Indian classical dances. For instance, going to temples, or seeing the older generation stringing flowers or making sandalwood paste. We use these gestures in dance, and implement them for children in the US. They might not have heard or seen any of these, so the way they embrace all these in America is awe-inspiring indeed. 

It is very fulfilling for me to watch senior dancers in the US who push themselves beyond physical and mental endurance with smiling faces. Whether in 2019 in MN or 2022 in NJ, I came away with a satisfaction that is indescribable. 

IC: What do you think is the biggest challenge NavaDarshana is facing as an organization?

PG: If I talk only about the intensive dance programs we offer, I can share the obstacles I see. Based on the challenges faced by students, performers, and teachers in the US, they have specific requirements. In the limited time of three to five days, we try to provide learning from every point of view. However, in that window, we can take this only so far. Here I am talking about things beyond teaching some dance items.

In 2019, we could bring kalari instructors, body conditioning trainers, theory experts, and dance authors, but due to many challenges, including financial and immigration issues, we could not get so many people in 2022. However, we’ll get there one day as our eyes are on the long-term goal. 

IC: What do you wish to incorporate in the future?

PG: Scholarships for young artists. For that, we need a level of financial stability. We want this community accessible to talented young artists who might need financial help. Also, next year, we might want to create a dance production with the participants of the residency intensive. It is hard but will be very fulfilling. 

Piyali Biswas De is a versatile Indian dancer, instructor, and choreographer in the Greater Seattle region. When she is not dancing, Piyali works as an IT professional and spends time with two beautiful...