Malavika Sarukkai’s reputation precedes her. Given her international schedules, and her various awards — from the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, in 2002, to the Padma Shri, in 2003 — she’s synonymous with Bharatanatyam in the country.
But what is it that makes a dancer dedicate herself to an art form from age seven, and be excited about it nearly 50 years later? As she speaks to us over the phone, in between her rehearsals, she gives us a glimpse of that passion. During the rehearsals for her show at the NCPA, she says there was an inspired moment in which she did a movement that she’d never done before. “It really surprised me. It was a moment of discovery, showing me something I’ve never seen. There is a sense of wonder that comes from such discoveries, and that’s what keeps me going.”
Amid the usual, and necessary, narrative of dedication towards art forms, and doing it for greater good, this childlike admission of awe is as honest a raison d’etre as you’ll get from a performer.
As with several stalwarts in the field, it was Sarukkai’s mother, Saroja Kamakshi, who initiated her into the field at a young age. Over the decades dedicated to dance, she says, it’s become more than a career choice. It’s a pursuit, she says, that’s “enriched my life beyond words”.
As she talks then, explaining her relation with dance, you get the sense that she can indeed see it as no less than an exalted, spiritual pursuit. At times, she calls it “an organic process that originates from the very centre of yourself…” and talks about the “energy which lies at the core of movement”.
If Indian dance forms weren’t so intricately connected to the divine (Bharatanatyam, for instance, is a temple dance form from Tamil Nadu), it might be hard to place Sarukkai’s words in context.
What makes Sarukkai’s performances unique is the marriage of two different schools of dance — the Tanjavur school, which focuses on linear geometry in technique and the Vazhuvoor school, which emphasises on feminine grace. Having dedicated a decade to learning each, she says “Each teacher brings to the discipline a certain worldview.” But in, the end, the search is for your own expression or, as she puts it: “a new movement vocabulary with foundations firm in the classical”.
Over the years, she’s been hailed by critics, connoisseurs and lovers of dance as a champion of new and contemporary ideas. She herself, though, doesn’t interpret performances in terms of the twirls and turns; she calls them mere “decorations”.
But what of the lament within those pursuing classical art forms of a generation that is easily bored, which actually wants entertainment served up fast? Her, “oh, well” suggests a sense of exasperation. “We are forgetting how to value the quiet appreciation that art requires, because we live in an age where we seek tangible returns,” she elaborates.
Dance, for her, beyond the demands of popular culture, remains a transcendental experience, something that, she says, can open up entire new world. Or, as she puts it, in a style we’ve now come to expect: “I am not presenting dance as entertainment… I’m taking people to the heartbeat of dance.”
The journey of dance
Elaborating on Punar Dhrishyam, her performance premiering at the NCPA in Mumbai, she explains the piece as a compilation of her earlier repertoire. Aiming to bring out the vitality, the art of creation, her sequences will focus on different aspects of composition. Representative of different stages of her dance journey, the curated program is an ode to the meditative quality that Sarukkai’s dance lends to Bharatanatyam.
What: Punar Dhrishyam will be staged on January 9, 6.30pm
Where: The Fine Arts Society, Chembur
Call: 2522 1504
Tickets: Rs 200 onward