In the play Malavikagnimitra, it is seen that the natya had both these senses of dancing and acting. It speaks of a natya called chalika, chalita or calita which was performed to the accompaniment of dance by Malavika. It was certainly not a drama, nor was it a mere nrtya type. As there is express mention of acting according to the prevalent sentiment after the stanza recited by Malavika, it is evident that it was a type which involved abhinaya, and this was the technical nature of nrtya. The Malavikagnimitra also recognises natya in the sense of drama. In it natya is characterised as a composition in which lokacarita (ways of the world) are seen and which necessarily refers to the drama proper, rather than to an ordinary nrtya. The Bhavaprakasana alone describes nrtta as rasasrayam (dependent on sentiment), thus equating it with natya.
The Dasarupa, states that nrtya is a representation of an object, is called 'high style' (marga), and the nrtta is a 'popular style' (desi).Similar meaning is attached to the words nrtya and nrtta in the Sahgitaratnakara, the Prataparudraya and the Siddhanta Kaumud. This clearly makes nrtya a more evolved form of nrtta. Nrtta is the original form of entertainment on which nrtya was an improvement. Thus nrtta involved tala (rhythm) and laya (tune) only and not bhava (emotion) while nrtya was essentially connected with bhava and producing bhava in the minds of the audience is an art far more advanced than mere bodily movement. Nrtta, thus, is dance, while nrtya is mimetic art. According to the Natyashastra, nrtta had no purpose other than amusing people.
Abhinavagupta gives the following divisions of nrtta: masrina (tender), uddhata (violent), masrinamisra (tender but mixed), uddhata-misra (violent but mixed), that which includes harmonious motions of hands and feet as in recakas and ahgaharas, that which includes music leading to abhinaya and that which follows music and vadyatala (rhythm of musical instrument) with harmonious motion of the limbs. It is seen that the first four divisions are based on a principle distinct from the one on which the last three are based. These three can be resolved into two types, one which has pure gatraviksepa (bodily movement) and in which hands and feet are moved in accord with bhanavadya (play on a musical instrument) and the second which includes abhinaya, with musical motions of limbs to the tune of music. These two types of nrtta are further taken as separate from natya as is clear from a passage of Abhinavagupta which says that the first type, which is nrtta, was quite different from natya and the second type, which is nrtya was practical in natya. Thus both these are distinct from natya. According to Abhinavagupta, abhinaya required in nrtta- kavyas is distinct from the abhinaya required in natya. In nrtta-kavyas, nartaki, a female dancer, resorts to angavyapara (movement of limbs) by accurate gesture, movement of eyes etc.; but all this is to attract the king in whose presence she dances. Thus the abhinaya of a nartaki excites the king's passion, but the abhinaya of a nata is to personate somebody and he has to show feelings, as experienced by another person and make them manifest on the stage by perceptible representation. Abhinavagupta says his second variety of nrtta is a sort abhinaya but it can produce only bhava (emotion), not rasa (sentiment) which would be evoked only by natya, and is, therefore, distinct from this second variety of nrtta. Abhinavagupta does not use the term nrtya but signifies both nrtta and nrtya of the Dasarupa by the use of nrtta.
As far as evolution is concerned, the nrtta comes first, then nrtya and lastly natya. Nrtta is mere dance; nrtya has gestures added to it, while natya has speech too. Natya incorporated all the three items, dance, music and speech, which are so vital and the key elements for the successful presentation of a play.