“India’s performing arts industry is largely unsupported financially”: Mallika Sarabhai
A leading representative of Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, Mallika Sarabhai is an acclaimed classical dancer and activist. As someone who started young, the artist claims that classical dance forms have definitely ‘bloomed all over the world’, but adds that ‘when there is a bloom you get orchids and roses but also flowers. weeds and wild flowers ”.
The performance artist, who has also experimented with mediums like theater, film and music, recently performed at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) after it reopened after a hiatus of almost a year and half. As such, we caught up with her to learn more about her illustrious career, the effect of the pandemic on the industry, classical dance forms and much more!
The arts and culture scene has slowly started to make a comeback after a hiatus of almost two years, what does it feel like to happen again?
It’s exciting, tense and exhilarating. However, at the end of the day, it’s all worth it.
During the pandemic, many artists reached out to their viewers / listeners via digital broadcasts. How do you see the new media?
When you talk about artists reaching out, you are only talking about a tiny proportion of well-known and digitally connected artists. There are many artists who come from the villages, traveling troupes of folk and tribal artists who have been starving. What about the crafts that nurture the artists – the ghumgru maker or those who skin the skins for the drums or the weavers who weave the Kanjivaram saris for our costumes? They were all hungry too.
For a small group of us, things were relatively easy, but there was no income. We would create digital performances and put them online, but almost everything was free. In my personal case, because the artistic director of Darpana (dance school) is a director and creator of films and videos, we have worked with digital media for a long time, so we could create and recreate pieces for digital media.
The pandemic has significantly affected the industry. What do you think he needs to do to bounce back in the post-pandemic world?
India’s performing arts industry is largely unsupported financially. People get by by teaching or have other jobs. The pandemic broke the backs of many who managed to survive. A new funding body must be set up to fund the arts. Look at how many countries around the world have supported artists during the pandemic by giving large sums to support artists, no questions asked and no kowtowing.
You started young; How would you describe the evolution of classical dance in India over the years?
It has bloomed all over the world, and when there is a bloom, you get orchids and roses but also weeds and wildflowers. We are there right now, where there are a lot of mixtures and hybrids.
While Bollywood has often featured classical dance forms, few films have been shot about traditional dance forms and their many nuances. What are your opinions?
There is a web series on Homi Bhabha and my father (Vikram Sarabhai) called Boys Rocket. I created Amma’s dance pieces for the series. But I don’t think such a Pandanallir Bhatatanatyam pucca has ever been in a mainstream movie or series.
In the same vein, what is your vision for the commercialization of classical dance forms?
We have to reinvent everything we do, hold it sacred, live, and think about getting rid of all the false gods we value. There is no simple or siled solution.
The pandemic has been a learning experience for many; what has been your greatest learning, both personally and professionally?
My biggest learning was that we can do without it so much, that we clutter up our lives; and that a hug from a loved one is worth a million likes on social media. Another thing I learned is that we have to value today because we may not have a tomorrow.
What’s the thing that you missed the most over the past two years?
Whether it was domestic travel for shows or pleasure travel, I missed traveling tremendously.
You may have experienced theater before. What is the best thing that you like about this medium?
For me, dance, theater, music and mask work are all different languages that I use to communicate. Different are effective for different subjects and reasons.
Can you tell us about your recent performances?
My guru Kuchipudi is largely unrecognized. The evening was a celebration of CR Acharyelu and his immense contribution to reviving temple dances that could easily have been lost with the abolition of temple dancers. This is what I featured in ‘An Evening with Mallika Sarabhai & Rama Vaidyanathan’.