Revanta Sarabhai, who is among the handful of well-known male Bharatnatyam dancers in India, believes that staying true to the classical dance form is important as “the vocabulary of this dance style is versatile enough to tell any kind of story”.
The grandson of eminent physicist Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and legendary classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai, Revanta is trying to tell new stories about current issues, such as climate change and long-distance relationships, through this 3000-year-old art form.
To mark the 100th birth anniversary of Mrinalini Sarabhai, he is now taking his message to cities across India, where he will present Bharatnatyam performances with a unique new repertoire, comprising the traditional and the modern. “It is an ode to my grandmother and my first guru,” Revanta tells The Indian Express.
After a performance at Bengaluru in February, Revanta, along with his wife Priyanka Raja, is in Pune for his next performance.
On Friday, Revanta presented a Bharatnatyam performance with the theme ‘From cosmic dance to climate change’ at the Nehru auditorium in the city. The event was organised by the India House Art Gallery.
He says it’s important to reach out to a younger audience. “One needs to package the content for a younger audience, not by mixing Bollywood music with the dance form but by exploring modern themes that are relevant today,” says Revanta.
“For instance, today’s 21st century man is not afraid of showing his emotions or vulnerability. In one of the pieces, I am telling a modern day love story of a man whose girlfriend is abroad and how they have to rely on fragmented digital communication to connect. The way we love has changed so much. Today it is technology driven, unlike the traditional love songs that would be portrayed by showing nature, birds, brooks and more. The gender stereotypes are so ingrained in the traditional repertoire that I have twisted the gender roles, saying times have changed and the woman is no longer sitting at home, pining for her lover,” he adds.
On Saturday, Revanta, who also pursues his passion of acting in theatres and films, will perform at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune.
“I have a very special feeling about this event… what a lot of people don’t know about Dr Vikram Sarabhai is that apart from being a great scientist and the father of the Indian space programme, he was also a great supporter of the Arts. He was as instrumental in setting up the Darpan Academy of Fine Arts with my grandmother in the 1940s as she was,” says Revanta.
IUCAA Director Dr. Somak Raychaudury says he is excited about the event, as the performance will mark the conclusion of the fourth national conference on Recent Trends in the Study of Compact Objects – theory and observation (RETCO-IV). “This workshop is on high-energy physics and includes senior scientists from across the country. Dr Vikram Sarabhai’s legacy in India is the Indian Space Research Organisation, that launched Astrosat for us. Revanta works on contemporary issues and we are hoping to connect with him so that scientific and astronomical issues can be woven through the dance form in his choreography pieces in the future,” he says.
On Sunday, Revanta will also judge some of the finalists of a dance competition organised by classical dance schools in Pune. The event will be held at Creaticity.
As he redefines gender roles, tweaks the deva-bhakta paradigm and tells contemporary tales through Bharatnatyam, Revanta will also showcase these performances at Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and several cities in Kerala.