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‘Sita’s Daughters’ will be performed on Saturday.
‘Sita’s Daughters’ will be performed on Saturday.

Challenging norms through dance

NCPA's two-day dance residency celebrates mother-daughter duo Mrinalini and Mallika Sarabhai

Each year, the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) invites an acclaimed dance institute to showcase its work through a series of performances, lectures, demonstrations and seminars. This year, it is celebrating the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, established by classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai in 1949 and now headed by her daughter Mallika.

“Darpana Academy (in Ahmedabad) is universally known as an institution that promotes creativity in culture and arts and thus it was just a matter of time that we at the NCPA hosted the institution at this year’s August Dance Residency," says Swapnokalpa Dasgupta, head, programming, dance, NCPA. The two-day residency starts today.

Making her own traditions

Mrinalini and Mallika have always treated experimentation as an integral part of their art. Sixty-six years ago, Mrinalini, now 97, felt that the audience was often carried away by the make-up and costume of a Kathakali dancer. So she came up with Manushya, a dance-drama in which she performed the same dance form sans make-up.

Through Manushya, Mrinalini spoke about human emotions, in a fashion similar to her other dance pieces, which revolved around subjects like dowry and women’s empowerment.

When Mallika took over as director in 1977, she continued to treat dance as a medium to comment on or discuss contemporary issues. For her, experimentation meant fusing dance with art forms like theatre, puppetry, imagery and digital videos.

Like her mother, Mallika too has always rejected the “norm"—in her case, the need to follow a patriarchal system. Her “dance theatre productions", as she calls her acts, attempt to discover brave female figures in history, mythology and contemporary times. Her Shakti—The Power Of Women (1989) made a strong statement about the condition of Indian women today, while Itan Kahani (1991) was a comment on cultural manipulation. “The only difference is amma is much more polite, and I am more in-your-face," says Mallika, 61.

The line-up Mrinalini Sarabhai: The Artist And Her Art beautifully captures how the dancer moulded classical dance norms and content, using the language of dance to express issues that concerned her. This documentary by Yadavan Chandran will begin the residency.

“We can well say that amma was the originator of the ‘contemporary’ dance form in India," says Mallika. “In 1963, she did a dance piece on dowry deaths, much before the phrase was coined. It’s she who taught me how art has the power to touch people’s emotions like no other thing in the world." The screening will be followed by a conversation with Chandran, Mallika and Kathak exponent Gauri Sharma Tripathi.

Day 2 of the residency will present Mallika’s Sita’s Daughters, a one-woman show narrating the stories of women who questioned the world and its values and resisted pressure. The performance questions the image of the “ideal woman" perpetuated in our society through mythological tales—in this case, the Ramayan, says Mallika.

While the first segment of the play projects a contemporary and transformed version of Ramayan’s Sita, the latter half speaks of modern women and their crises.

Mallika attacks the patriarchal society head-on. “My idea is to create an egalitarian society where the treatment of women as ‘the other’ is made null and void," she says. With elements of dance, theatre, puppetry, imagery and music, the message of Sita’s Daughters is clear—“modern Indian women can no longer be dominated and subordinated".

“Dance, Movement And Theatre", a workshop demonstrating the use of stylized movements in theatre and the use of spoken words in dance, will conclude the residency programme. “People always had this notion that theatre artistes can’t dance or dancers can’t say dialogues properly. Whereas, actually, dance and theatre share a porous relationship and this workshop aims to merge both," says Dasgupta.

The August Dance Residency will be held from 28-29 August, 7pm onwards, at NCPA, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point (66223754/26149546). The workshop will begin at 11am; registration fee, 500. Tickets (for Sita’s Daughters), 400 and 500, available on in.bookmyshow.com. For details, visit www.ncpamumbai.com

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