Remembering Mrinalini Sarabhai

Legendary dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai's daughter Mallika, and grandson Revanta, will bring to life the legacy of the late Padma Bhushan recipient

As A child, Mallika Sarabhai remembers being scared of her legendary dancer mother, Mrinalini. “She was an astonishing mom,” the 62-year-old Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam exponent recalls.

Mallika (left) in an earlier performance with her danseuse mother, who passed away this January

But, when it came to teaching dance, she was quite a disciplinarian. “For some reason, I would burst into tears each time she walked into my class. I was terrified of her. Luckily, she was never my teacher, because she would only teach students, who were professionally training to become dancers,” says Mallika, who took up dance at age three. At home, however, the equation was different. “We (her kids) were the centre of her lives. She was like a lioness, fiercely protecting us, and would accept us, no matter what. She would let us know if she disagreed with something we did, but if we went ahead and fell flat on our faces in the process, she’d still be there.”

A young Mallika with mother Mrinalini
A young Mallika with mother Mrinalini

Mallika is set to share such vignettes from her mother’s life in a new show titled, Celebrating Life, which will honour the late Padma Bhushan recipient, who died at the age of 97 this January. “What we are putting together is a combination of people who’ve worked with my mother in different fields, speaking of one aspect of her personality; excerpts from her works, interviews and what she has created over the years; and a performance by my son Revanta and myself, showcasing her stricter style of Bharatanatyam,” says Mallika. Among those speaking at the event will be dance critic Sunil Kothari and veteran theatre actor Tom Alter.

Mallika Sarabhai
Mallika Sarabhai

According to Mallika, one of the most important aspects of Mrinalini’s dance legacy was the clean architectural style that she brought to the classical form.

“Several people have told me watching her perform was like seeing architecture come alive on stage. She used space, geometry, and the breadth and width of the stage when she danced. She also made us connect very directly with the audience… her dance was never esoteric or inward,” says the artiste.

Mrinalini’s life, her daughter says, revolved around the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, the institute she founded along with husband Vikram Sarabhai in 1949.

“Till she was 93, she would come to Darpana at 9.30 am daily.

If we were creating something new, she would watch and suggest. Otherwise, she would sit at her desk, and research on dance,” says Mallika. “Dance was still an integral part of her life. In fact, in January 2015, she performed at 10 shows, along with Kumudini Lakhiya (85) at the Kadak Badshahi event,” says Mallika, and then muses, “Her life was a celebration.”

WHEN: June 26, 7 PM
WHERE: Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Sir Dorab Tata Road, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point
ENTRY: Rs 400 – Rs 500
CALL: 22824567

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