Rediscovering Bharatnatyam — Malavika Sarukkai

On 29th March 2013 I watched Bharatnatyam  ( indian classical dance ) performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.  Call it my ignorance or lack of exposure but I had never heard of her before. I had been trained in Bharatnatyam for more than 9 years then and after watching her perform  I kept asking myself how is it possible that I have not heard of her and do I really know Bharatnatyam? Do I really dance or it is just  some movements that I been taught and I do them. I had  heard of the term “Angika Abhinaya” where your entire body is used to convey emotions, depict various forms  but not until that day I really understood what it meant.  Malavika Sarukkai was performing the  dance “Ganga” ( the sacred indian river) where she takes to you through Ganga’s journey from birth to her  merging into the ocean. She actually made Ganga come alive for me. I was absolutely enthralled! I could see Ganga in her different forms – she was chirpy and playful at times, sensuous the other. In one of the acts she takes Ganga to the Banaras Ghat. I have never been to Banaras before, all I have known about Banaras is through bollywood movies, but it felt as if I am sitting on Ghat where Ganga is talking to me about different people that visit her and their life stories. One of the stories involved , a woman lamenting the death of her son and asking for her own “mukti”; or  crossing over to the other side , Malavika Sarukkai’s heart touching performance brought tears to my eyes. There was a time during the performance when I felt that may be she is good with Abhinaya and  probably not so strong on Nrita but I was so wrong, the next act was where she exhibited how equally great she was to both abhinay and nrita. She was forceful yet elegant and subtle at the same time.

After the performance there  was  discussion session, which was equally intriguing. She was asked how does she decide what gains priority in a dance act – meaning whether should the expression be made through just the face or the whole body or just the feet because it felt that its her feet that are doing all the talking. I was puzzled when I heard the question , I mean I have never thought about it , she said she thinks of dance as a language, and that makes it easy for her. While choreographing a piece she just thinks of how will she be able to express herself, convey her emotions and feelings better. If you think of it ,she stated the most complex of the behavior so simply.  She was asked that she does not stick to the traditional style in fact she has tried to bring various aspects into it like culture, politics, human beliefs and traditions how does she do that? Answering that she said that it is exactly like when you have learnt intricacies of a language that you actually start seeing gaps between the alphabets and may be you can put something in between two alphabets.

One other thing that touched me was her oneness with this form of art. When as I kid I went to dance class my dad always said that any form of art is like doing “Sadhna” i.e  meditation.There is some spirituality to it. I probably do not understand it so well but when she was performing, one thing I could tell for certain that her body movements felt as if they are originating from within her not merely an act . When she showed Ganga it felt as if she is Ganga  herself , not that by some hand gestures she is exhibiting flowing water.

To me it felt that  Malavika Sarukkai was one with her soul ….I can watch her perform for hours and not get tired. It was an experience that will stay with me for long.I am glad I decided to see her perform.

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