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Mallika Sarabhai Biography

Mallika Sarabhai is a performer and creator of many talents. Her career has developed from being a young, internationally acclaimed, classical dancer and film personality, to being an activist and commentator on social issues.

Now an established artist she celebrates positive reaffirmation of images of womanhood through dance, theatre and writing. Following the rich and inspiring model of her mother Mrinalini, Mallika has placed herself firmly at the cutting edge of Indian dance and dance theatre.

In a culture which favours conservatism she wields the vocabularies of Indian traditions as trenchant tools to sculpt new reactions in her audiences. 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.

Deeply rooted in Indian cultures, but open to the influences of her collaborations around the world she has synthesized her experiences to become one of the most exciting creative influences in India today. Dynamic, charming and dry-witted, she is a rare creature in the arts.

Mallika Sarabhai is co-director of Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad, a unique centre for the arts which has performed all over India and all around the world. Here she directs the Darpana Performance Group; the Janavak

Folk and Tribal Dance Company; Darpana for Development; Darpana Communications; and the Darpana Conservatoire.

The Dancer

At the root of Mallika’s performance is her expertise and deep knowledge of two forms of Indian classical dance, Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradeshrespectively. As a young woman, Mallika Sarabhai won international awards for her classical dance, and she is still learning items from her gurus, some of which she alone in the world can perform.

Even in these forms 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 still the main element of her performance life, whether at international festivals or local cultural events, and the warmth and life with which she imbues these forms keeps her much in demand.

The Choreographer

In Indian dance there is no great tradition of creative choreography. It was Mrinalini Sarabhai who first used the Bharatanatyam vocabulary to speak of moods and themes other than the traditional devotional ones. Mallika Sarabhai  talked of bride burning and of pollution in her dance dramas. Mallika performed in these and absorbed the ideas but it is only in the last decade that she has started to choreograph herself, her company and even her mother.

As she started to crystallize what it was she wanted to express through her work she drew on many elements to create her choreographic vocabulary. Of course, the elements of her classical dance were there, but so were the rhythms and steps from the work of her folk dance company.

Mallika Sarabhai 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 which react to communal violence in India (“Mean Streets on Earth”), which celebrate rituals behind her dance (Thattukazhi), or the rites of passage of a woman (Ceremony I”). In these, and many more, Mallika Sarabhai is still experimenting with other music, 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.