The citizens of the Pacific Northwest in general and the greater Seattle Community in particular are fortunate to have Dr. Joyce Paul Poursabahian in our midst. Dr. Joyce Paul is the Director of Arpan arts one of the premier Bharatanatyam dance schools in the Pacific Northwest. Fondly called “Joyce akka” (meaning elder sister in classical Tamil) to her legions of enthusiastic dance students she is the paragon of patience and charm balanced with rigor and outstanding artistry.
Recently I had the privilege of attending a program that her dance school put on at the Meany Ethnic Theatre on the campus of the University of Washington. The evening’s performance was also an occasion for a fund raiser for young destitute women around the world. The spirit of charity was invoked even before the spotlights were turned on by her talented and versatile students. The program was called Ehasas 2011 and many of her most highly trained students put on a show that thrilled and captivated the audience. Dr. Joyce Paul’s Bharatanatyam dancers are not only well trained in the classical form of the dance, they are also inculcated with a deep love for the ancient form. They seem to view it as a privilege to be able to be a generational link in long chain of human history that has preserved the elegance, grace, athleticism, mysticism and intricacy of such a magnificent corpus for mankind to cherish.
The program consisted of several very traditional and classical Bharatanatyam pieces and some less traditional pieces. The amazement to this scribe is the joy and ease with each dancer approached what must surely have been a nerve wracking event. The sure footedness of the students combined with the artistry and outstanding choreography made it an exhilarating event for the audience.
Dr. Joyce Paul has an extraordinary ability to relate to her students whether they are the very young or the more senior. Even before the show Joyce akka took the time, when most art directors are at their most frenetic, to sit down on stage with the tiny tots and get them to realize this was a fun occasion. This is truly a Joyce Paul Poursabahian trademark. It is apparently not restricted only to the little ones. Joyce is able to harness the talent of her entire team of dancers. This co-creation results in a choreography that the dancers seem to grasp and enjoy, perhaps significantly more than if handed a piece to perform. It is not wonder that her students’ passion for the dance items comes through like a clarion call.
The pieces in the middle performed by the young children were enchanting and charming as the young dancers expressed their love of dance through their movements and with a sense of true joy.
The centerpiece of the program was a half-hour long varnam, “Naadhanai Azhaithu Vaa”, which was beautifully choreographed and then arranged for a group. The rich Abhinaya enhanced the tightly executed Nritta. This was high art form that truly enriched and nourished the Seattle cultural scene.
The final piece of the night was a dance item titled Guru Ashtakam. It was the piece-de-resistance for even the uninitiated amongst the audience who were viewing a Bharatanatyam performance for the first time. It was the world premiere. This performance by teacher and students was a truly spectacular piece of choreography with a lone dancer in the spotlight up front while the dancers in the shadows behind her echoed the graceful and powerful movements of the chant. All of the mundane aspects of a weary world were sublimated as the audience and dancers seemed to be of one rhythm. The space between all disappeared. The very sacredness of knowledge and the excitement of learning were brought forth in a most exquisite way by the talented dancers. Joyce certainly has a way of getting out the best from her dancers. What a pity the night had to end. But what a culminating experience! Thank you, Arpan.