Deccan Herald, Sunday, October 26, 2003


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 Ram Gopal: the legend     

Ram Gopal will be forever remembered not only as a great dancer but as the one who brought to the notice of the world the beauty and grandeur of Indian classical styles, remembers Leela Ramanathan 

Ram Gopal was born in Bangalore. His father was a Rajput barrister and his mother, a Burmese lady of extraordinary beauty. He was a born dancer and even as a child he was interested in interpreting ancient Indian myths and legends through movements and gestures. He persuaded his father to let him take lessons in dancing, and once without the permission of his father, he danced at the annual garden party of the Maharajah of Mysore, who finally persuaded Ram Copal's angry father to let him be trained as a dancer. After this there was no stopping him. 

He learnt Bharathanatyam from the great masters - the late Meenakshi Sundaram Pillar, Muthukumaran Pillai and Kathakali from Kunji Kurup and Chandu Panickar and Kathak from Sohanlal and Bowri Prasad.

Ram Gopal will be for ever remembered not only as a great dancer but as one who brought to the notice of the world the beauty and grandeur of Indian classical styles through his recitals.

Keen attention to technique, artistic presentation, perfect interpretation and purity of style characterised his dancing. Cyril Beaumont writing about Ram Gopal's dancing says “what impresses one most about Ram Gopal's dancing is the manner in which he is able to assimilate the characteristics of the four schools of technique so completely different in style, costume and mood.”

Like Uday Shankar who was ‘discovered’ by Anna Pavlova, Ram Gopal was brought into limelight by an American dancer La Meri who took him with her on a world tour. While he loved all the styles of classical Indian Dance - Kathak, Kathakali and Manipuri, he liked the most the Pandanallur style of Bharathanatyam of Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, for its ‘inherent dignity and precision.’ His rendering of Natanam Adinar and his choreographic compositions - the Golden Garuda and Sandhya Nritya, are unforgettable. As he danced on stage he became the spirit of the dance itself, dynamic and beautiful.

For a short while before he moved to England, he ran an Academy for dancers in his home town Bangalore where he invited already trained dancers to participate in his shows and be further trained by him. I was one of the privileged ones and had the pleasure of being 'honed' by him. Being a dancer himself he was able to improve my footwork, posture, movements and gestures. 1 had to work hard but I enjoyed the discipline and concentration. He was a good, though very strict teacher. Off the stage he was warm and affectionate to all of us.

It is impossible to list his performances, but wherever he danced - and he danced all over the world - he was hailed as a ‘dancer par excellence’ who had created an awareness of India's rich heritage of classical dancers as no other dancer had.

Countries have showered awards galore on him culminating with the British O B E, in 1999. A number of books have also been written about him. The Central Sangeet Natak Akademi of India had made him a fellow but neither the Indian Government, nor the Government of Karnataka (for he was born and brought up in Bangalore) had recognised his true worth, although the Karnataka Nritya Kala Parishath - a guild of dancers from all over Karnataka conferred on him the title ‘Nritya Kala Choodamani’ before he left India. Ram Gopal was never very concerned about awards and honours. His only wish was to preserve and propagate classical dance and as he used to say in his inimitable way “awaken the Nataraja in each dancer.”  

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