Coco Chanel writes that adornment is a reflection of the heart. The famous Indian dance artist Malavika Sarukkai picks up this thread in "Thari – The Loom", an enchanting and deeply imaginative work inspired by the sari, the traditional garment that envelops a woman of many layers of history, of manual labor, of culture and identity.
This 70-minute play, premiered in the United States on Friday and Saturday at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, is Sarukkai's first ensemble choreography. It is clear that a firm hand has designed precise synchronicity and harmonies of style, design and rhythm.
Sarukkai perfectly masters the Indian classical dance form known as bharatanatyam, but she has long distinguished herself as an iconoclast, introducing contemporary themes and motifs into her performances. So it's here. The dancers, dressed in beautiful pleated and trimmed costumes of deep reds and roses, crisscross the scene from side to side and their net and linear patterns evoke the thousands of sons of a sari. The recorded sound combined a traditional roll, a radical percussion and the rhythmic clatter of a loom.
The simple elegance of a sari, not sewn and delicately draped rather than bound by zippers, buttons or belts, offers a wealth of associations. "As a young dancer, the sari was a proclamation, a sense of purpose," says a voice-over. The garment, conferring confidence and dignity on its wearer, has finally become "an emotion, a state of mind".
It was good to have this narration because the movement was essentially abstract. Sometimes the dancers performed small, repeated accents: light and fast jumps, feet stuck under the body, or square shoulders and slightly swiveling waist, turning like precious stones capturing the light. Their gently insistent footwork lurked like a luxurious ornamentation. These changes, among others, in the dynamics and shapes of the dancers seemed to echo the embellishments woven into the fabric of a sari. The stylized gestures of the hands, or mudras, and eye movements are subtle but no less impressive brands of expertise that draw us into the life of the spirit.
Sarukkai's eyes, particularly in his solo in the heart of "Thari," expressed deep sympathy, urging us to pay close attention to each finger of the finger. But we are attentive for complicated reasons, or rather because each sharpened muscle of his body commands it. One can marvel at the thrills of emotion in her eyes, the way she shudders in her hands like an aspen leaf, or the way she sinks sumptuously into her. her hips as if she too was woven of silk. But it is the interweaving of these qualities and others that constitutes a scenic presence of an unforgettable power.
Documentary director Sumantra Ghosal (who composed The Speaking Hand on tabla maestro Zakir Hussain) collaborated with Sarukkai. His contact was particularly visible at the end, when projections of points of starry light invaded the dancers. These luminous spikes multiply to consume everyone, transforming the scene into a brilliant galaxy, dissolving matter into light.
"Thari – the loom" will be performed at 7:30 pm Saturday at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. www.kennedy-center.org.