Malavika creates magic at Hyderabad
- Priya Raman, Hyderabad

September 25, 2010

On August 4, 2010, the outer hall of Birla Bhavan quivered with high end dignitaries in chiffon sarees and tailor made suits exchanging pleasantries over high tea. One could take a safe bet that this was categorically a Birla Group get together, only to surprise yourself as you entered the auditorium.

There was the music ensemble clad in traditional Kancheevaram silks and dhotis in contrast to the outside atmosphere, checking sounds and tones. A simply dressed, serene self, defying her age, Malavika Sarukkai moved about the stage, instructing on light and acoustics. The event was the silver jubilee celebrations of the Birla Foundation, collaborating a talk on Ramayana by Dr. BN Goswamy and a Bharatanatyam recital by Malavika Sarukkai.

So, as we braced ourselves for a visual deconstruction of the tale of our ever loved Indian Idol man Rama and his ever giving ideal wife Sita, it was not about the story, for Malavika dealt with characters, sequences and emotions in a vivid narrative defining true satvika bhava. She commenced with a Mallari which tapered from the vibrant rhythmic syllables to portraying the procession of the Utsava Moorthy of Rama and Sita. As she canvassed the space showing the drummers, trumpeters, ladies swaying with lamps and chamaras, her sheer power to breathe in into each character made one wonder if the actual drummers would do it as elegantly! Her movement of the drummers would spike any rasika off his/her seat to say the least.

Even as today's dance community echoes the need for a closer proximity between classical dance and the Gen X audience, Malavika established this connect in more ways than one. She took precious recital time to consciously educate the audience in her approach towards her presentation. Negotiating between dance and painting, the brush strokes, finer nuances et al as can be exuberated equally in dance, how just a gesture of plucking flowers could be brought closer to reality, how a casual walk in a museum drove a change in her portrayal and so on.
Malavika presented Mareecha Vadham dividing in three scenes of Rama and Sita in a soothing environment, dialogue between Ravana and Mareecha, and Sita struck by the deer asking Rama to fetch its skin and the subsequent chase.

The scene where she depicted Ravana treating Rama as a mere mortal might have taken just a minute but struck the right chord. Rama's chase following the deer had just the mridangam following the footsteps of the dancer, and sarcastically proved that Bharatanatyam does not need the complex edupu passages, gathis and jathis to make an impact! A simple Chatushra beat can do it with the right satva. The final piece had a philosophical bent, inculcating verses from the Kamba Ramayana of how ladies in Mithila, awestruck by Rama, just cannot stop gazing at him. The poetic lines were effortlessly converted into subtle movements of ladies embodied as peacocks, deer and lightning.

As I watched this as a rasika, this one hour moved me and kindled emotions in the inner self, but what was rather not moving was that the audience comprised mostly of the 40+ generians. Young dancers, it's high time we move out of reading 'rasanubhuthi' in text books. You should have been there for getting the best essence of rasanubhuthi. And, not to forget, one of the vibhavas for this rasanubhuthi was the music ensemble with Nandini Anand on vocal, Nellai Balaji on mridangam, Srilatha doing the nattuvangam and Srilakshmi on violin. The lights were set by Sai Venkatesh.

Priya Raman is a Bharatanatyam dancer, who has been conducting interactive workshops on classical dance for school children as an Education Consultant with The Times of India - Newspaper in Education (NIE). Priya writes on dance and dance related issues in Ananya's monthly magazine, Abhivyakthi.