Fifty years of an artistic journey is an occasion not only for celebration, but also for deep introspection. Malavika Sarukkai’s performances have often been spoken about for finesse of movement, vibrant footwork, intense expressions and sculpturesque poses, but is that all there to her dance? Is there a deeper quest as an artiste? Has the artiste evolved, widening her canvas and charting an individual path over the years?
All these queries find an answer in Malavika’s latest choreographic work, ‘Anubandh – Connectedness’, presented recently at The Music Academy.
As ‘Aaditya Hridayam’ (Malola Kannan) reverberated on stage, a bright circle of orange light framed the dancer. She visualized the sun god on a chariot driven by seven horses, radiating energy and light, the intensity of which was expressed through abstract movements. The artiste then took us through a narrative that moved from the personal to the shared.
The bond with Nature
According to Malavika, ‘Anubandh’ is a response to the world she lives in. “It seeks to recognize and reclaim our primordial relationships with the Sun and Moon, as also with the five elements (pancha mahabhutas) where Earth, water, wind, fire and space.”
Among the varied ideas explored through movement and gesture in the five-part choreography were the touch of Mother Earth, the sap that gives birth to the tree, the drops of rain, the gathering of clouds, the flow of the river, the waves of the sea, the power of passion, ignited due to Kamadeva’s arrows, the abundance of Nature, the creative and destructive power of fire, the interplay of joy and sorrow, and, finally, being released into the embrace of space.
The chanting of relevant Gayatri Mantra for each element knit them together.
The musical score created with sensitivity by Easwar Ramakrishnan conveyed the distinct mood of each segment. The multiple voices rendering alaaps and swaras, the melodic notes of the flute, violin and sitar, the play of rhythm, the jathis and dhrupad music (Uday Bhawalkar) were all woven into a rich soundscape.
Five raga structure
Easwar had conceived of a structure of five ragas to go with the theme—Saveri for Ri, Varamu for Ga, Behag for Ma, Naganandhini for Da and Bahar for Ni. Vignesh Ishwar, Murali Parthasarathy, N. Bhagyalakshmi and Vasudha Ravi were the voices chosen for the different elements. Sai Shravanam’s sound design was a beautiful blend of sounds and pauses.
The orchestra comprised MS Sukhi (nattuvangam), Keerthana Vaidhyanathan (vocals), Nellai Balaji (mridangam), Sai Shravanam (tabla, frame drum and keyboard), JB Sruti Sagar (flute), L. Kishore Kumar (sitar), and Eliaz Caden. (producer for dhrupad music).
Lighting designer Niranjan Gokhale did not just provide technical support, he was also an integral contributor to the choreography. “My idea was to see how light affects/influences the way we understand each element of Nature,” he said during a chat after the performance.
The lighting lent an edge to the entire production, but the segment ‘Walls’ deserves a special mention. Malavika’s intense portrayal of the turmoil of an individual trapped in a space, combined with powerful horizontal beams of light, was a moment of artistic excellence.
Sumantra Ghosal, the creative collaborator, has penned the poems for each element—these were used as a voiceover. Anuradha Anand translated them into Tamil. The costume design was by Sandhya Raman.
The performance moved beyond the familiar pattern of mudras, abhinaya and nritta. And so, ‘Anubandh’, the result of a collaboration amongst a team of creative individuals, made for an engaging, enriching experience.
What the audience got to see was dance as a language, not just a repertoire.