"What is your dancing?" Anna Pavlova wanted to know when she visited India in the 1920s. The great Russian ballerina's question is still being answered. Americans discover the variety of India's dance styles with every new company that tours here; some of India's secluded traditions are just now being displayed, even in their own country. Dr. Mrinalini Sarabhai, whose Darpana Dancers performed Saturday evening at the Northwood High School in Silver Spring, is a scholar and artist who, while helping to revive her country's dance past, is not afraid to of innovation.
Mrinalini's experiments in Indian dance include not only the elaboration of modern dramatic subjects but expansion of the old movement vocabularies. On occasion, she has even collaborated with the West (in Italy for an Italian ballet production of Beethoven's "Creatures of Prometheus" and in Austria for the choreographed version of a Franz Schubert essay on the Indian epic "Shakuntala"). Saturday, in the invocative "Dance of Shiva," there were traditionally set, intricate passages as well as improvisatory solos within the context of a formal tableau.
The company performs in several of the better-known Indian styles, such as Bharat Natyam, Kathak-Kali and Kuchipudi. New for a number of the Americans in the largely Indian audience, was the Mohimattam style. Its vivacious brush steps, glissades, emphatic rises to half-toe and snappy descents made Mohimattam seem like a cousin of the Spanish jota.
Mrinalini is a striking performer. Older than the other dancers, there is authority in her bearing. Her gestures are on a commanding scale. The agility of her hand work creates the illusion that her fingers and nails are fantastically long. Two other dancers of note were Mrinalini's daughter, Dr. Mallika Sarabhai and Sasidharan Nayar. Mallika seemed sensual and yielding until she surprised with the energy of her speed. Nayar's enjoyment of his own vigorous jumps and cushioned landings was infrectious.