Ram Gopal 1912-2003
Room 31 showcase, until 11 December 2016

‘I love to move, to leap, to float …well, just let the spirit seize me at the sound of drums or music.’

Ram Gopal, Rhythm in the Heavens, 1957

Ram Gopal was an international pioneer of Indian classical dance. Gopal’s skill in Bharata Natyam and Kathakali learnt from leading teachers was recognised early. Born in Bangalore, he defied the wishes of his father, a Rajput lawyer and his Burmese mother, to take up dance. He was supported by the Yuvaraja of Mysore and in the 1930s began touring extensively overseas, first with American dancer La Meri.

Gopal made his celebrated London debut in 1939, performing to a full house at the Aldwych Theatre. His performances received glowing reviews from dancers and critics alike. During the Second World War, Gopal returned to India to help the British war effort by dancing for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). He settled in London in the 1950s but continued to tour internationally. The dance historian Cyril Beaumont wrote, ‘I should doubt if any male dancer has travelled more than he, and always with success and a request to return.’ Widely recognised for his work as a dancer and choreographer, Gopal also enjoyed a successful career in America, directing dance sequences for Hollywood epics and appearing in films such as Elephant Walk (1954). His best-known creations are the Legend of the Taj Mahal, Dance of the Setting Sun and Dances of India of which he wrote, ‘I feel I have justified the past while keeping in touch with the present.’ In 1960 the English ballerina Dame Alicia Markova collaborated with Gopal to create the duet Radha-Krishna.

Gopal spoke frequently of the ways ballet and Indian dance could complement each other, bringing together diverse cultural experiences. He hoped that through dance ‘the highest cultures of the East and the West will be drawn together and will work towards a true culture which is above all distinctions of race, nation, and faith.’ In 1990 Gopal was given the honorific Indian title of Pandit and was appointed OBE in 1999. Five vintage photographs by Carl Van Vechten, Madame D’Ora and George Hurrell show Gopal in various costumes and dances.

Pandit Ram Gopal
by George Hurrell © reserved; collection National Portrait Gallery, London
NPG x128613