Malavika Sarukkai used unusual visualisations to break the mould
Malavika Sarukkai can be considered a pathbreaker. Over the years, one has seen her foray into new areas in Bharatanatyam, creating narratives with tailored music and abstract movements.
Malavika’s set at the Music Academy performance had pieces that were uniquely composed and structured, but it ended with the conventional thillana, a Balamuralikrishna composition in Brindavani in adi tala. The opening ‘Nritta Kavya’ paid homage to Shiva with Sivashtakam (composed by B. Seetharama Sharma). This was followed by a ragamalika ‘Thari jham ta rita jham’ that seemed to be inspired by the Odissi pallavi. The jathis in between had different tempos, mostly brisk, using karvais to good effect. The dancer was in fine fettle, light-footed and energetic. The almost 14-minute piece was a treat with beautiful music and rhythms.
Malavika’s abstract-style Gangavataran (‘Ganga Stotram’ composed by M.S. Sukhi) was the highlight of the fairly long programme. She built a narrative about the stately Bhagirathi, flowing down Shiva’s locks and meeting with the sensuous, green Alakananda in Devprayag, and then flowing as the Ganga. It opened to a darkened stage and funereal music. Shiva had his back to us, and while the Shiva nama was sung, Bhagirathi flowed down from his head, in slow hand movements, to the beats of the tabla and chants. Here, the lights were blue on one side and yellow on the other, symbolising Ardhanariswara.
Bhagirathi’s journey through highs and lows, accompanied by beautiful swaras, nritta and karvais, was seamless, but could have been crisper. Then came the capricious Alakananda, leaping about gracefully, with Kathak-like tatkaar accompanying the music. They meet and converse in different tones, one a bit gruff, the other using softer syllables like ‘takita’ and the tabla. A few lines are in Hindi, ‘Sukha dayini’, followed by a benediction to Ganga. It was 18 minutes of drama, played out strongly.
Catchy folk beat
For Malavika’s style to work, the music, lighting and performance have to go together. It is abstract dance-theatre. Two mood pieces, with Andal’s ‘Nachiyar Thirumozhi’ verses, followed. One she named ‘Seasons of the Rains’ (Kapi), with a verse from the second canto where Andal and the Ayarpadi gopis, lost in love with Krishna, plead with him to not destroy their sand castles. “Protective of their surging emotions, which like sand castles, can be easily provoked, the girls did not want him coming close,” narrated Malavika. It was a light piece set to a catchy folk beat.
The other, ‘Thoodu’, in which ‘Vinnila Melappu’ and two more verses from the eighth canto were chosen. has Andal in despair because Krishna has not come to fetch her as promised, and she tries to send dark rain clouds as messengers to him. Malavika’s visualisation was unusual — she broke it into three parts and used one form with a suitable dhyana sloka for each — standing Perumal, seated Lakshmi Narasimha, and reclining Ranganatha. With excerpts from the ‘Venkateswara Suprabhatam’, ‘Lakshmi Narasimha stotram’ and ‘Vishnu Sahasranamam’, linked with the verses and swara patterns, this was another musical gem. It was tuned by Vanathi Raghuraman in ragamalika, talamalika.
Malavika uses minimal mudras, letting her expressions, music and lighting do the rest. The soundscape has a big part to play. The cymbals were soft and barely heard, while the nattuvanar (M.S. Sukhi) rendered jathis in a base voice. The rich, soothing landscape was made possible by Vasudha Ravi and Murali Parthasarathy on vocals, with Nellai A. Balaji (mridangam), Sai Shravanam (tabla), Srilakshmi Venkataramani and Easwar Ramakrishnan (violin), Navin Iyer and Sruthi Sagar (flute), and S. Ganapathy (dholak). Lighting was by Krishnan Murugan, and costumes by Sandhya Raman.
The Chennai-based writer reviews classical dance.
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