Bharatanatyam exponent Malavika Sarukkai merges weaving and Indian dance form

Nov 25, 2017, 10:28 IST | Dhara Vora Sabhnani

"The idea germinated two and a half years ago when I read an article on the Kanjivaram saree. I knew this was a theme that I had to dance to," says noted Bharatanatyam dancer Malavika Sarukkai

"The idea germinated two and a half years ago when I read an article on the Kanjivaram saree. I knew this was a theme that I had to dance to," says noted Bharatanatyam dancer Malavika Sarukkai. The result is Thari - The Loom, a performance that will be presented by crafts organisation Paramparik Karigar. Sarukkai and her troupe will explore the similarities between handlooms and Bharatanatyam in a 75-minute performance. True to her style of merging contemporary sensibilities, the piece will also feature poetry by filmmaker Sumantra Ghosal. The music for the first choreography (by Sai Shravanam) is set to the sound of the handloom, where Sarukkai uses parivattam (spindle) in her dance. For her research, Sarukkai also interacted with a master weaver in Kanchipuram.

Thari - The Loom, a Bharatanatyam performance by Malavika Sarukkai. Pics courtesy/Shalini Jain
Thari - The Loom, a Bharatanatyam performance by Malavika Sarukkai. Pics courtesy/Shalini Jain

Edited experts from an interview:

What connects dance to weaving?
My interest isn't about the physical saree, it's more about the fundamental principles that dance and weaving share - the rhythm of the weaver, structure, symmetry and contrast. For example, the peacock pose may be inspired by the vahana of god Murugan, and there are so many mythological connections in weaving motifs too. Based on its colour and the occasion you wear it for, a saree has various connotations. Dance, too, celebrates more than its physical aspect of movement. There is a resonance between weaving and dancing, as disciplines. The rhythm and coordination that the weaver uses is extraordinary. They are artistes in their own right. Sadly, they do not enjoy that status. Through this performance, we can bring focus to their artistry. The entire production is inspired by the making of a Kanjivaram saree.

Malavika Sarukkai
Malavika Sarukkai

What pushes you to work with abstract narratives?
My mother studied philosophy deeply and I grew up in an environment where philosophy was always discussed. As a dancer, after having worked with the margam [the traditional repertoire], which is more about emotions and storytelling, I wanted to discover more. We touch newer perspectives through abstractions and it opens more possibilities in dance choreography.

What does the saree mean to you?
I have great childhood memories of the matriarchs of my family wearing sarees. There is something everlasting about a saree. There is a legacy and continuity to it. It's also about emotions and making a personal statement. It's a celebration of what the weaver has woven.

What are your earliest memories of draping a saree?
As a young student of dance, I used to wear a pajama and kurta. When I grew up, I had to wear a dance saree, which was my first saree. I would ask my mother to hold one end of the saree, and I would wrap the other around. She asked me once, "When will you ever learn to wear a saree?" I wore a Maharashtrian saree in London for my first big international festival. Another memory is from '85 when I was performing at the Lincoln Center in New York. The saree gave me a sense of pride about my country and heritage. Sarees have so many memories as they never go out of fashion.

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Most prized saree
"My great grandmother's nine-yard pattu silk saree in orange, rust and zari. I don't know how to wear a nine-yard, so, I just take it out and keep looking at it. Another piece is my mother's wedding saree," says Sarukkai.

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