Celebrated dancer and choreographer Mrinalini Sarabhai made a public appearance after a gap of nearly ten years when Natyavriksha invited her to deliver a lecture on World Dance Day at the Capital.
Sarabhai who has achieved an international reputation that is unmatched by any contemporary Indian classical dancer has been a pioneering figure in dance. The syntax of her creativity mediates between a moral commitment to traditional form and the desire to claim one's own experiments as unique, unrepeatable.
This interface of technical mastery and creative expressionism achieves a profoundly versatile language of the body - simple, eloquent, visually inspiring. The creative anarchy of her essentially modern style is convincingly disciplined by the taut orthodoxy of her classical technique, learnt from her guru Sri Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai.
The result is an exalted visual statement combining almost fanatical purity of vision with modish formal experiments. Founder-director of the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, which came into being in 1949, she continues to delve deeply into issues that concern her. Be it the dowry deaths, suppression of women, child labor or the Narmada Dam controversy.
"I want the displaced to be rehabilitated, the homeless to be provided with shelter and needy to be given relief," says the danseusse.
Having travelled extensively all over the world and having received many distinguished national and international awards and citations for her contribution to the preservation of Indian classical dance, she is often referred to as "the High Priestess of Indian dance" by dance critics.
She spends all her time thinking about dance or other creative work and work on several projects along with her daughter Mallika and grandson Revanta.and has given "new concepts to traditional dance forms with fresh perspectives and new mysteries."
Your public appearance after a huge gap.
I have stopped performing for a while now. The only exception I've made was in December last year when my daughter Mallika and I performed together at a friend's daughter wedding as a gift.
How would you define dance?
My life. My passion. My existence. It's everything that I can recall or share and comprehend. Whatever I perceive it's through the eyes of dance - be it the trees, nature the environment I see it as a continuum of life through the prisms of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Since I believe that a stage performance touches people's lives more, I prefer performing to a live audience.
The power of dance, music, arts and literature has to be experienced by the common man and thus they must react to it live. Bharat Natyam is all about human elements and all about love.
Doesn't it reflect life then?
And I never compromised on anything despite criticism and many attractions.
How do you remain connected with your passion.
I am writing my biography that keeps me occupied.
Many of your contemporaries were also great dancers. What kind of a relationship did you share with them?
We were all good friends and admired each other's works. Unfortunately I don't see that happening very often now. Till very recently some of us like Kumudini (Lakhia), Chandralekha and others would often meet up. I was very close to Nandita Kripalani, Gurudev Tagore's granddaughter and felt very close to Tagore too whose songs I still sing today.
What do feel about the state of classical dance in India?
I experimented a lot though always insisted on performing classical first wherever I danced - India or abroad. Dance, according to me, must connect with the people and dancers must preserve the old as a 'treasure.'
Your piece of advice to the dancers of today.
I want to tell the dancers there are no short cuts to success. They must hold on to the technically correct method and technique of dance first before moving on with experiments. And yes, they must follow their dreams.
Can they combine dance with family?
Why not? When I performed in the US, they called me 'the ballerina with a baby as my daughter was firmly placed on my hip wherever I went.
Did you get offers from Bollywood as well?
I did but never gave in to it. I don't call Bollywood dancing art, it's primarily pelvic thrusts that caters to the hoi polloi. It's only entertaining, doesn't represent our rich culture.
Do you like fusion in dance?
It needs to be done carefully and can be presented separately without overlapping.
Do you like critics?
Most critics are not valid and don't explain why they appreciate or run down a performance. Sunil Kothari always justified his criticism.
Who did you admire as a dancer?
There are many but I personally liked Uday Shankar very much. Dance adapts itself to new ideas and must address modern concerns which he understood very well.
What about audiences?
I loved Paris, the Mecca of fine arts. The people abroad pay more attention to details, respect our art more. Also Bengalis. I loved my stint at Santiniketan so much in Bengal that I wanted to marry a Bengali.
Your message to the people.
Violence disturbs me so much. We need to be more tolerant and not take up cudgels mindlessly. Like people are gunning for poor Richard Gere is stupid. He should be spared - all he did was to kiss. Please, there are so may important issues to be dealt with.