Mallika Sarabhai's ‘India-Then, Now, For Ever' was an aesthetic synthesis of classical, folk, tribal, and contemporary dances.

Mallika Sarabhai's production – ‘India-Then, Now, For Ever,' – which was presented at Thripunithura, was a documentation of aesthetics, about the evolution of Indian art in its multicultural and plural context.

An amalgam of classical, folk, tribal, and contemporary dances, the show brought out the unique essence in each without diluting its flavour. The tribal dances, which existed even before Vedic times, were part of ancient rituals. The amazing drum beats coupled with tribal costumes and the energetic dancing made the opening quite breathtaking.

The scene shifted swiftly to South Indian temples, where dances became more stylised and sophisticated to accommodate spiritual needs. Mallika made a dramatic entry with her co-dancers and presented a piece of pure dance in Bharatanatyam style.

Mask play

Mahabharata as a source of inspiration of dances in the East was showcased in Chau style, with masks; the piece depicted the fall of Abhimanyu in the battle field. Sonorous drum beats heightened the drama. A precursor to modern day Kuchipudi was Bhagavatha Mela Natakam with its sensuous, fast-paced dancing. Mallika danced on an inverted pot akin to the ‘tharanga' done on a plate.

The folk flavour was further highlighted in the Lai Haraoba dance of the hill tribes in north-eastern India. The evolution of music was explored too. Musicians came on centre stage and gave a rich overwhelming rhythmic experience with the chenda, thavil, drums, and long horns, creating new sounds of expression.

The attempt of the ‘Bheel' tribe to preserve their culture of goddess worship through their dance was one of the most charming pieces in the show. Dancers, men and women, gathered and went round in circles as they swirled on the stage, balancing bronze plates in their hands.

Two male dancers explored the vast possibilities of movement as they danced to Indian drum beats and slow music in various agile movements. Aspects of Kalaripayattu and Yoga were blended to modern contemporary dance movements to show how a dancer delves into tradition and then evolves to form a contemporary style.

In the new age, the performers ask questions of the purpose of human life and the hypocrisy of pretensions. This was portrayed by dancers in spotless white cotton salwars who danced with hand-held masks, shifting positions rapidly. With amazing speed the dancers changed costumes to multi-coloured kurtas and presented what was ‘the dance of celebration.' The event was held at the JT Pac theatre.