ATHERTON, Calif. — It was an evening that could fire up any thinking human being; Indian mythology viewed from the perspective of a modern Indian, and presented beautifully with Bharatanatyam mudras. Mallika Sarabhai with her dance troupe enthralled the audience with her dance composition, “Finding My Voice,” which aimed to inspire social change, Sept. 16 at the Menlo Atherton Performing Arts Center here.
Sarabhai, a renowned dancer, choreographer, and an activist, was ably supported by her dance troupe from the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts.
The event was organized by three organizations devoted to the arts and social causes: Indians for Collective Action, Art Forum SF, and the Montalvo Arts Center’s Sally and Don Lucas Artists Residency Program.
Through a collection of dance recitals based on the Indian classical dance form, Bharatanatyam, the dancers inspired the audience to examine the mythology that has been passed on from generations.
“Finding My Voice” brought a fresh perspective on the burning issues of our time, like global warming, an atheist’s relationship with the Goddess, sexual preferences, and the growing intolerance in the world.
“I communicate to a particular audience in a way that they can accept. I come from a scientific bent of mind and I use the medium of art to convey my point to the audience,” Sarabhai told India-West.
ICA and Sarabhai share a common cause to create an India of empowered people. Her first presentation with ICA dates back to 1994 when she performed a very feminist piece called “Sita’s Daughters.” The recital tells the story of “Ramayana” from Sita’s perspective, in which she asks Lord Rama, “Why was she used for his gains and his aims?” The recital is the voice of women who refuse to fall into the rules of patriarchy and then be measured against those very rules.
Sarabhai was given the Lifetime Achievement Award for her humanitarian work by ICA in 2004.
“We have a strong interest in women empowerment. Ms. Mallika Sarabhai and ICA share a common purpose from that perspective,” Bhupen Mehta, Indian American co-president of ICA, told India-West.
The Silicon Valley-based ICA has been working actively towards the betterment of the underprivileged in India since the last 50 years.
It functions as a small incubator to provide seed funding to people with bright ideas in India. ICA and Indian American philanthropist Prabhu Goel created a group called Foundation for Excellence to support children who cannot afford a higher education.
Mehta told India-West, “This group selects such bright minds from India and takes care of their education through a 4-year scholarship. FFE gives about 8,000-10,000 scholarships every year.”
Committed to social change and excellence, ICA will host their award banquet Oct. 28, during which they will felicitate Sonam Wangchuk, an innovator and the inspiration behind the movie, “3 Idiots,” and, Talat and Kamil Hasan, co-founders of the India Community Center.
“We are also working with a non-profit, Goonj, to help the flood victims in India. ICA will host an event on Oct. 2 to collect funds for the long-term rehabilitation of the flood victims,” Mehta added.
Art Forum SF is a not-for-profit organization that strives to promote all art forms that emerge from South Asia. They have a unique mission of bringing a confluence of art forms while retaining the native and yet relating to the global.
“Art Forum and I want to work towards making the Indian art relevant to today’s world. We believe that it is not a museum piece, but very much a living entity with its roots in history. All my work is based on the strength of Bharatanatyam because it’s such a strong language,” Sarabhai told India-West.
In this tour, Sarabhai also presented “Ramayana” for the school children at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga. “We managed to tell the story of ‘Ramayana’ without the patriarchal outlook, while retaining the message that this powerful scripture has to offer. Such perspective on our mythology will slowly, but surely, change the way people, women and, casts are perceived,” she said.
Expressing her concerns on domestic violence and other societal evils, Sarabhai urged Indian Americans to “Follow your own script and don’t feel frightened by someone else’s script.”
“If you are standing on your own two feet, then do not live a life that is shackled by what others expect of you. Life is not about saving your prestige. It’s about finding and doing something to sweeten the world,” she said.