Her own margam

Her own margam

I cannot find truer words to describe the celebrated dancer Malavika Sarukkai. As someone who has watched a part of her journey for more than 27 years, I must confess that mere good technique would never have kept her audiences seeking her at every performance.

Malavika’s training began from the age of seven. Her first teachers in bharatanatyam were Kalyanasundaram Pillai and S K Rajaratnam Pillai, and later, she learnt abhinaya under Kalanidhi Narayanan.

It was the legendary Kelucharan Mohapatra and Ramani Ranjan Jena who inspired her and initiated her into the world of odissi. By the age of 12, she had made her entry on stage formally, and soon she found herself completely enveloped in the mystical world of dance.

Equipped thus with the technique of the art form, she began her artistic journey passionately, first by working at perfecting the technique and then by gradually adding her understanding through her experiences. So, it was similar to a sculptor fashioning a work of art after his own understanding of what made for a good proportion.

By 1986, she knew the direction her dance was taking. As a thinking artist, she wanted to express her innermost ideas through her art. She didn’t want to be confined by the margam. Yet, as someone who appreciated the grammar of bharatanatyam, she created her own repertoire, always including memories of various incidents or inspirations drawn from different sources.

Throughout this journey, Malavika’s mother was the one single force who prodded, taught, inspired, critiqued and challenged her to outdo herself from the previous peak she had figuratively climbed and conquered.

The mother and the daughter discussed yogasutras, philosophy, art, music, places, everyday tragedies, nature, environment and any and every issue that was worthy of discussion. The germination process for her different dance productions were born from these forums.

She found solace in abstraction after years of expressive abhinaya, and sought to express sambhogam sringaram (feeling of love in union) not through abhinaya, but through nritta. Nritta is in itself non-emotive, and that makes it emotive.

When she worked on her production Khajuraho, she expressed architectural ideas through movements, thus exploring from the outer praakaram to the inner-most garbagudi, thus moving from openness to looking within to concentrate with single-minded devotion. Thus continued Malavika’s journey in dance, always seeking, always exploring .

“The repertoire that I have today would never have begun if it were not for my mother’s influence, support and faith in me as an artiste,” admits Malavika. Her hard work did not go unnoticed or unrecognised — awards came from the government as well as non-governmental institutions; of them Padmashri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award...

Her mother’s departure to an unfamiliar space beyond human understanding only got Malavika more wrapped in a serene approach as she surged and flowed ceaselessly in her artistic journey. Today, as she presents her latest production, her mother’s memory and influence continue to loom large in the background.

Thari: The Loom, which is on at Bengaluru’s Chowdiah Memorial Hall till October 13, is a work of abstraction. It began when Bhamini Narayan, an old friend, sent her a newsletter describing a sari. As Malavika read it, she found motifs in the form of words, and soon the very words became the basis for a dance. And soon Malavika found herself in Kanchipuram at the thari.

As she interacted with the weavers, and made herself familiar with the working of the looms, her own story began to be woven there too, and the dance of the sari was born.

Sumantra Ghoshal, film-maker and the creator of The Unseen Sequence (a film on Malavika), is her creative collaborator for the production.

Three pieces — three choreographies ­­­— ­­­begin to spin a tale. The thread is woven in the beginning at the loom where the idea or the seed took birth. Dancers dance to the sound of the looms, and Sai Shravan, one of the best classically trained audio-engineers, provides the authentic sound of looms, and creates a genuine ‘loom sound’.

Constants & variables

The next segment is the journey through the warp and the weft. With Aditya Prakash setting music for this segment, Malavika takes her viewers on the symbolic journey of the ‘constants’ and the ‘variables’ — viewers can examine the many constants that get warped into our lives, and how imperative it becomes for each of us to deftly play with the variables that we can possibly change to seek a more peaceful life.

The last segment is the sari itself, and C V Chandrasekar, the much-revered doyen of bharatanatyam, has set music to the gentle flow of the sari. “ You have to dance the concept, not the dance,” is her constant refrain to her dancers. Malavika is at that point in her dance journey where she has moved from linear and literal meanings and gestures to expression through the substance, and even as she internalises she constantly questions herself whether she can say more through less.

She seeks minimalism not only in her dance but in every aspect of her production, including music.

She sees many threads of similarities between weaving and dance, and it seems to her as if they weave their own pattern at various levels — rhythm, space, measurement, time, space, motif, design, harmony, alignment...

Malavika almost wistfully says: “If the viewers at the end of Thari say they never imagined the sari to say this, I would feel most humbled.”

Personally, I have always believed that a sari not only speaks of a weaver weaving his tales, but it speaks of the memory that each wearer has when he weaves his personal memories into it, making it his motif, his design.

The wearer thus makes it her own personal story, and when you own the story, the sari gets a new meaning. The weaver no longer has sole proprietorship once the sari leaves the thari. The wearer adds more meaning now — a shift takes place. Art transforms when the audience takes forward yards of magic, when each one weaves his tale. The perspective of each person changes. A sari depends on how beautifully the wearer drapes it, too.

Art transcends when the artist, the art and the audience meet to understand and take the art to greater levels of understanding. It is this communication that Malavika hopes to have through Thari.

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