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A movement called dance

Ahead of her performance in the city, danseuse and activist, Mallika Sarabhai talks about using dance for activism, her dance school -- Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, her mother and more

Q. How did the idea of Darpana come about? When was it started?
A. Darpana was established by my father, space scientist Vikram Sarabhai and Amma (Mrinalini Sarabhai) in Ahmedabad. My dad handled the administration initially, while Amma was only the artistic head and didn’t really get into the administration part of things. For a while it was running on autopilot. I took over in 1977. Various forms like theatre, dance, puppetry co-existed at Darpana which we believe is an arts center where the arts meet society, to inform, educate and transform.
I realised that we had so many excellent teachers each of whom believed in using their medium for helping better our society and they were each individually doing it in their own areas of expertise. Kailash Pandya was doing it with theatre, Meher Contractor was doing it with puppetry and Amma was doing it with dance. We had so much talent and dedication under one roof. It was important to organise and channelise this so that we could put up acts that could involve these diverse mediums to bring about a change in our society. In 1980, we established Darpana for Development (D for D), to focus attention on creating behaviour change communication. Government departments, ministries and other non-government agencies began partnering with D for D to educate the public in issues of health, education and empowering women. Over the next two decades, D for D became the fastest growing segment of Darpana. We also worked with issues like TB and HIV in the 1980s.

Mallika Sarabhai performing Sita’s Daughter, a one-woman show that tells the stories of some of India’s bravest women
Mallika Sarabhai performing Sita’s Daughter, a one-woman show that tells the stories of some of India’s bravest women

Q. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
A. Initially, funding was a major issue. People told us that they didn’t want to spend money on “naach gaana”. There is statistical evidence that using art to create social awareness is a far more effective method than advertising and other forms. People don’t understand, even corporates doing CSR don’t understand. We still face these problems.

Mallika Sarabhai in a contemporary dance performance titled Hot Talas Cool Rasas
Mallika Sarabhai in a contemporary dance performance titled Hot Talas Cool Rasas

Q. Tell us about your relationship with your mother as a student and as a dancer?
A. I was never a direct student of Amma’s but started work with her when I joined the Company in late 1976. It was as though I could read and interpret every thought of hers. The first time we performed together was in Mira, which she choreographed for the two of us, with me playing the external and her the internal Mira. It was as though we were a single person

Mallika Sarabhai performing the Classical Nataraja Vandanam
Mallika Sarabhai performing the Classical Nataraja Vandanam

Q. Tell us about the film by Yadavan Chandran that will be screened in Mumbai
A. Amma started using classical styles to talk of issues that bothered her as early as 1949. She was the first classical dancer to do that. Her work touches dowry deaths, Dalit and tribal issues, violence and the destruction of the environment. The film traces this journey and for it we recreated some of her seminal pieces with conversations with her. Yadavan has placed the entire film in a black box setting integrating Amma into each of the pieces although she is not dancing in them. In that sense, he too adds to the choreography by allowing audiences to see aspects of the dance they would normally never get to see from that perspective

Mallika Sarabhai (left) with Mrinalini Sarabhai (right) performing in Chandalika. This was the first time Bharata Natyam was introduced in a Tagore dance-drama
Mallika Sarabhai (left) with Mrinalini Sarabhai (right) performing in Chandalika. This was the first time Bharata Natyam was introduced in a Tagore dance-drama

Q. You have used contemporary forms with classical styles often. Which one do you prefer?
A. Bharata Natyam is my battery charger, and I find it a very powerful and versatile form to talk of issues I want to talk about now. I always go back to it to re-nourish myself.

Q. Tell us about Sita’s Daughters and why you chose to stage this particular production, this time.
A. Sita’s Daughters is a one-woman show telling the stories of some of India’s bravest women of yesterday and today, women who refused to give in to the pressures around them, women who questioned the world and its values. They are Sitas who refuse ever again to submit to the tests and trials of weak and doubting men. Not all are queens or leaders. Some are ordinary women going about their normal lives in our towns and villages. This production challenges viewers to look beyond the generally accepted patriarchal reverence and brings out thought-provoking moments on gender awareness and women’s position in society. We need it now more than ever. NCPA decided that they wanted us to perform this act, in Mumbai.

On: August 28 to 30
At: NCPA Marg, Nariman Point.
Call: 22824567
For tickets Log on to: www.bookmyshow.com
Cost: Rs 400, Rs 500

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