THE EXPANDING CANVAS
by Malavika Sarukkai
Natya Kala Conference 2001 - December 21
e-mail: malavikama@vsnl.net
May 2002

I believe that Bharata Natyam is a living, breathing art form. A language of dance. It is not to be equated solely with a repertoire that evolved at a particular point of time under certain social and historical circumstances. In doing so one restricts this magnificent and resilient style within parameters, denying its vitality and natural acceptance of change.

My Bharata Natyam style is rooted in the sacred, works with the classical alphabet and allows for interpretations to have contemporary energies. This empowers it with an immediacy and great contemporaneity. Bharata Natyam is the language of my training with which I express my innermost feelings.

Doing my own choreography has impelled me to get closer in touch with myself. There is a growing awareness of other areas, which need validation. Besides, the role of patron - dancer has changed as also the central position of a man in a woman's world. The canvas of Bharata Natyam, which till now seemed richly filled with the emotions of bhakti sringara, sambhoga and vipralambha sringara, has started to expand revealing other spaces. As a woman and as an artist, I have been questioning myself, trying to redefine the areas of my search. Other emotional spaces need attention, and through dance I give expression to them.

Doing new work within the expanding canvas of Bharata Natyam demands great intelligence and imagination. There is no structure to fall back upon and one cannot resort to familiar patterns. It is then of utmost importance to keep in mind “ouchityam” or appropriateness and the need to evoke “rasa”, contemplative savouring. I believe these two principles root the artist and give stability to the production enabling her to repossess her tradition in the light of contemporary awareness.

Bharata Natyam is a powerful and evocative language of dance. It provides me with a fundamental alphabet with which I choreograph my dance - both abstract movement and interpretative abhinaya.

Like a poet uses the words of a language, a creative dancer uses the vocabulary of dance language to communicate.

Bharata Natyam has within it the vitality to evolve with changing times even while it has its roots in the past. This has inspired me to create what critics have termed. ‘innovative - within - tradition' choreography on diverse themes. These presentations have evoked responses from audiences in India and abroad as being stimulating, meaningful and aesthetic.

Choreographing diverse themes has been for me a creative journey, a learning process, a challenge. I have worked with the vocabulary, the grammar and the technique of Bharata Natyam. Adding to the movement vocabulary. Exploring the relationship with space. Reinterpreting the texts in the light of contemporary awareness. Extending the technique in the need to be true to the essence of each new piece. Creating new structures. Commissioning new lyrics and music for many of the productions.
Malavika started dance studies at the age of 7 training under Guru Kalayanasundaram of the Thanjavur school and Guru Rajaratnam of the Vazhuvoor school. She has also studied abhinaya under Guru Kalanidhi Narayanan and Odissi under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and Guru Ramani Ranjan Jena. Malavika's exceptional artistry was featured in the BBC/WNET television documentary “Dancing”, a 9-hour series on world dance. A film “Samarpanam” has been specially made by the Govt of India on her life and work. In recognition of her interpretation and choreography, Dept of Culture, Govt of India, has given senior fellowships and grants to Malavika.