(Last Updated on : 17/07/2014)
Mallika Sarabhai is one of the most renowned Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam dancers in India today. This performer and creator of many talents developed from being a young, internationally acclaimed classical dancer and film personality, to being an activist and commentator on social issues. Positive reassertion of images of womanhood has been reflected through her dance, theatre and writing. She exercises the vocabularies of Indian traditions as biting tools to carve new reactions in a culture, which favors conservatism. As dancer, actress, choreographer, writer, or instigator of community projects she challenges audiences to sit up and think, realign themselves to questions of ecology, women's place in society, gender awareness, cultural atrophy, the very place of the arts in our society. Dynamic, charming and dry-witted, she is a rare creature in the arts.
This leading exponent is the daughter of the dancing legend Mrinalini Sarabhai and the renowned scientist Vikram Sarabhai who is considered as the father of Indian space programme. She holds a MBA and a doctorate in organizational behavior from IIM Ahmedabad.
At a very young age Mallika Sarabhai started to learn dancing. When she was only 15 started her film career in parallel cinema. She has also played the role of Draupadi in Peter Brooke's film 'Mahabharata', which was made in English and French. After completing her graduation, Mallika entered into the world of performing arts following the footsteps of her mother.
It is her expertise and deep knowledge of two forms of Indian classical dance, Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh respectively at the root of Mallika's performance. Mallika received her first award in 1977. Along with many salutations she was the recipient of the "French Palme D'or", the highest civilian award by the French Government and in Paris she was honored as the 'Best Soloist Artist' among 400 dancers from 25 countries among other awards.
Though Mallika is deeply rooted in Indian cultures, but she open to the influences of her collaborations around the world and she has given a form to her experiences. It raised her to become one of the most exciting creative influences in India today. In her dancing career she has rejected items which she feels stem from overtly patriarchal periods and which represent women as subservient, and has put together pieces celebrating the strength of the goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. This is the main element of her performance life, whether at international festivals or local cultural events, and the warmth and life with which she influences these forms keeps her much in demand.
It was Mrinalini Sarabhai who first used the Bharatanatyam vocabulary to speak of moods and themes before this in Indian dance there is no great tradition of creative choreography. She talked of bride burning and of pollution in her dance dramas. Mallika performed in these and absorbed the ideas. She has started to choreograph herself, her company and even her mother from the last decade. She drew on many elements to create her own choreographic vocabulary, which has been expressed through her work. She studied martial art forms from South India and from North East India, she observed and stylized everyday movements and gestures until she could create pieces. Her work 'Thattukazhi' or 'rites of passage of a woman (Ceremony I")' are the reaction to communal violence in India ("Mean Streets on Earth"). In these, and many more, she is still experimenting with other musics, with video accompaniment, with multi-arts forms. In a very real sense these interdisciplinary works are deeply in the tradition of Indian performance, and now these works too are being invited around the world.
Multi faced Mallika's work as theatre maker work has evolved into a new and vital form that challenged people's preconceptions. A strong voice with natural charm, ability of telling story and for directly addressing her audience with conviction, as well as her movement and dance skills, serious subjects have been tackled in a burst of refreshing work. She became aware of the need to make strong and positive statements about images of Indian womanhood while performing as Draupadi in Peter Brook's "Mahabharata" which resulted in the creation of "Shakti - The power of Women " staged firstly at London.
Historical and contemporary female figures had stunning effect on audiences as a evolution of mythological, which quickly led to a second piece, "Sita's Daughters". It was an even harder hitting piece about women although often very funny, who refuse to accept an oppressive system. This piece was performed all over India from slums to metropolitan festivals and has been invited to Singapore, USA and Britain.
Mallika Sarabhai in order to fling light on the matters of cultural manipulation using those similar skills, with which she made an impression, teamed up with Nigerian performer Peter Badejo and staged "Itan Kahani- The story of stories". This was followed by a very ambitious project, a new piece blowing some fresh air through the subject of why we commit violence "V for…". In April '99 came "In Search of the Goddess" commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. Other acclaimed works are 'Aspiration', 'Ganga', 'Surya' etc.
Mallika is co-director of 'Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad, a unique centre for the arts along with her mother. The institute has performed all over India and all around the world. Today the academy has many faces; the Darpana Performance Group, the Janavak Folk and Tribal Dance Company, Darpana for Development, Darpana Communications, the Darpana Conservatoire etc.
In recent years Mallika has managed to apply her artistic talents to her desire for social change in a series of unique projects. Working with most experienced Darpana performers and dozens of her rural and traditional trained artists, she has instituted programmes of using the performing arts to examine gender awareness, issues of violence and environmental issues in schools. Along with AIDS awareness in slum areas and witch killing in rural areas. These interactive projects bring together artists sociologists, scientists and local people to make challenging programs often leading to community performance.
Sarabhai is a social activist too. Personally she is a strong character with her own ideas and she feels that dance is a living language that you can interpret the way you think best. Whatever field she is involved in, be it an activist, writer, instigator of community projects, anchorperson of magazines or TV channels, painting with her feet, she excels in it.