World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Izumi Sato

: Bharatanatyam
: Izumi Sato
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2006

Bharatanatyam, one of South India’s classical dance forms, originated in the temples of Tamil Nadu as a form of worship performed by dancers known as devadasis, or “female servants of God.” The word ‘bharatanatyam’ is made up of four Sanskrit words: bhava (expression), raga (melody), tala (rhythm) and natyam (dance).

Considered a professional community of women trained in dance, music and temple ritual, devadasis at one time occupied a respected status second only to priests. Due to many political and economic changes in South India over centuries, this tradition has experienced much change; its legacy is disputed as layers of historical data are still being revealed. In summary, however, the tradition flourished in the 10th century as wealthier temples had as many as 400 devadasis. When temple patronage declined by the end of the 11th century, many devadasis were forced into a life of poverty and prostitution. During the end of India’s Colonial era in the 19th century, reformist movements led by European missionaries launched campaigns to abolish the tradition, viewing devadasis only as prostitutes. At the same time, Indian revivalist movements supported by the Theosophical Society spearheaded drives to restore the practice as they considered devadasis pure and chaste temple nuns. Thus, many upper class women learned the dance from devadasis and helped to bring their dance tradition into public recognition – only now as a form of entertainment and national identity.

Izumi Sato, originally from Japan, has studied bharatanatyam since 1995 with several prominent teachers in India, among them Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan. She received an Indian Cultural Council Relations (ICCR) government scholarship to continue her training and in 2001 was awarded the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award for her dance achievement in bridging cultures between India and Japan. She completed a master’s degree in dance at the University of Hawaii with an International Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.


TITLE OF PIECE: Tillana: Hymn to Lord Rama
CHOREOGRAPHER: Saroja Vaidyanathan

With roots in ancient Hinduism, bharatanatyam’s statuesque poses, geometric lines, detailed hand and eye movements and complex foot rhythms coalesce around a deeply spiritual core. The rhythmic use of time in the music and steps is a sacred language that has survived life’s changes through millennia.

, a piece typically performed as a finale in bharatanatyam concerts, is an expression of happiness and a celebration of life. This tillana entitled: Hymn to Lord Rama, is dedicated to the courageous Hindu god Rama, the main character in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana.

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