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MUSIC AND DANCE REVIEWS : Sarukkai's Solo Draws In Audience

November 14, 1994|LEWIS SEGAL

The lush beauty and devotional intensity of Indian classical dancer Malavika Sarukkai reached a wide U.S. audience last year through the PBS series "Dancing."

In a six-part solo program at Schoenberg Hall on Saturday, Sarukkai again seemed an ideal ambassador for the ancient art of Bharata Natyam: a dancer who can bring stunning immediacy and naturalness to a dauntingly complex idiom.

Four years ago, Sarukkai's appearance at the India International Dance Festival in New Delhi provoked charges of governmental favoritism: accusations that she was essentially a technician without expressive distinction and thus didn't belong on so prestigious a showcase. Her performance then--and her UCLA program Saturday--addressed the controversy directly by emphasizing emotional values.

You could argue that Sarukkai's dramatic powers were taxed to the limit when depicting the monstrous serpent Kaliya in "Grishma," a narrative about the god Krishna. But she gloriously defined the primal yearnings, satisfactions and jealousies of womanhood in three central pieces, with "Kettisan Vazhi" especially notable for its supremely elegant eroticism.

Here she periodically became a living sculpture: slightly leaning to the side, with eyes closed and one hand close to her cheek while the other reached out as if to gather desire from the very air around her.

In contrast to the confessional intimacy of such moments, she forcefully met the technical and rhythmic challenges of the Varnam and Tillana pieces, splendidly accompanied by Neela S. Sundaram, Nagarajan Bagyalakshmi, Palghat K. Ranganathan and Natarajan Sigamani.

Sarukkai's most remarkable achievement, however, might have been her ability to obey the rules of Bharata Natyam yet bring non-specialist viewers close to its heartbeat by making every moment seem personal, spontaneous and even contemporary.

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