Malavika Sarukkai and the art of owning the space

When the dancer goes up on stage, she packs enough surprises in her performance

Updated - January 04, 2024 11:05 am IST

Published - January 04, 2024 11:04 am IST

Malavika Sarukkai‘s performing Sri Krishna Gana Sabha’s Margazhi 2023 festival.

Malavika Sarukkai‘s performing Sri Krishna Gana Sabha’s Margazhi 2023 festival. | Photo Credit: RAGHUNATHAN SR

Good music is, sometimes, half the battle won. Bharatanatyam dancer Malavika Sarukkai , who is conscious of this and takes nothing for granted; she plans her music and dance meticulously.

The first part of her performance with Nilambari (‘Sringara lahiri’) and a ragamalika magnum opus commencing with Thodi (‘Sami nine kori’, Rupakam, Thanjavur Quartet) saw a rare fusion of synergies with music by Murali Parthasarathy (vocal) and Venkatasubramanian (violin), and nattuvangam by Neela Sukanya and Nellai Balaji (mridangam). They complemented the dancer’s involvement and energy. The beautiful, sensuous form of Parvathi and her compassion for all devotees made up for 10 minutes of visual poetry. Malavika created an aura with focus lighting, soft melody, and footwork, with the sharp tone of the cymbals and mridangam adding to the appeal.

High-energy performance

Malavika Sarukkai’s experience came through in her visualisation.

Malavika Sarukkai’s experience came through in her visualisation. | Photo Credit: RAGHUNATHAN SR

Malavika’s high-energy jathis, as she traversed the stage, alternated with jathis that emphasised the accent beats with silence and movement. In nritta, the dancer has evolved a style that incorporates Kathak-like stamping during the jathis and the thattu-mettu sequences, even while the straight lines of hand movements accompanying them continue. She builds the mood through fast footwork, well-composed music (the vocalist never raised his voice to ear-splitting levels) and mostly abstract gestures, having phased out most hastas.

Malavika’s choice of sancharis are off-beat. The varnam on Brihadiswara was offered to the dancing avatara of Shiva, Nataraja. Again in the charanam, she visualised the dance offerings in the temple as an ode to the devadasis with thattu adavu and tisra alarippu. In the ‘Prema miraga’ anupallavi line, the story of Brahma and Vishnu trying to measure the Lingam was used, followed by the flow of the Ganga.

Malavika Sarukkai goes beyond the conventional when conceiving a piece.

Malavika Sarukkai goes beyond the conventional when conceiving a piece. | Photo Credit: RAGHUNATHAN SR

The 30-minute varnam was exhaustive. Malavika gave her everything — attention to every line of sahithya while keeping up her energy in the jathis and swaras. The post-varnam pieces, with North Indian ragas as she referred to them, were less intense, quieter musical pieces. Both were Sant Tulsidas’s compositions — ‘Tumaka chalatha’ (misra Khamaj) and ‘Mareecha vadam’ from the Ramcharitmanas tuned by Seetharama Sharma.

The orchestra was attentive. Though Neela used bells instead of the cymbals in ‘Tumaka chalatha’, it didn’t sit well when played through the piece. She switched to bigger cymbals for Ravana and other interventions, which sounded apt. The percussion-driven Ravana episode was dramatic with the demon king working himself up into a rage. The chase was most interesting as the silence, softly intoned sollus and mridangam, with an occasional strum of the violin strings, gave a sense of the depth of the forest. Malavika’s fashioning of her Bharatanatyam programme always has many surprises.

Malavika Sarukkai’s performance was backed by well-composed music.

Malavika Sarukkai’s performance was backed by well-composed music. | Photo Credit: RAGHUNATHAN SR

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