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Ram Gopal; Took Indian Dance to a Global Audience

Obituaries

October 18, 2003|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Ram Gopal, a star dancer of enormous skill and impact, who introduced and popularized on world stages the dances of his native India, died Sunday in a London nursing home.

Reports of his age vary. Most sources give 1912 as Gopal's year of birth; others say 1917 or 1920. But by the mid-1930s, he had learned no fewer than four forms of Indian classical dance and embarked on an international performing career.

In 1938, Gopal made his New York solo debut, and the audience response was enthusiastic enough that several of his pieces were repeated. "Ram Gopal tears us away from the untruths of everyday life into the reality of his mystic visions," wrote critic Carl Van Vechten.

The following year, Gopal made a sensational first appearance in London, striking audiences unacquainted with traditional Indian dance as "a bronze god," in the words of British ballet critic Arnold Haskell.

Recognition and respect in India took Gopal longer to achieve, but he was acclaimed at the 1945 All India Dance Festival in Delhi and Bombay and represented India in major international festivals thereafter.

Indian dance critic Sunil Kothari praised the grandeur that Gopal personified in his best performances and for "doing justice to a tradition famous for its fascinating depth of expression and enduring vigor. He brought suppleness, grace and a brilliant imagination to his interpretations of Indian classical dance."

Gopal was born in Bangalore, the son of a Rajput father and a Burmese mother. He began dancing in childhood, and throughout his youth sought out major teachers in a number of cities. In 1936, he was discovered by La Meri, an American world-dance specialist, and invited to perform on an Asian tour with her.

For the next 30 years, Gopal combined a performing career with company-building and various educational activities, including the founding of the Academy of Indian Dance and Music in London in 1962. His autobiography, "Rhythm in the Heavens" was published in 1957.

The French director Claude La Morris made two documentary films about Gopal, and in 1990 the dancer was honored by being named a fellow of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's national academy for music, dance and drama in New Delhi. Nine years later, his adopted country, Britain, awarded him the Order of the British Empire.

Toward the end of his life, Gopal divided his time among London, Venice and the south of France. He had been married for a short time in the 1960s to Edith Alexander,who died before him. There are no known survivors.

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