The soul the sari: Indian dance star Malavika Sarukkai weaves steps into silk

Adornment is a reflection of the heart, wrote Coco Chanel. The renowned Indian dance artist, Malavika Sarukkai, takes this thread in "Thari – The Loom," an enchanting and deeply imaginative work inspired by the sari, the traditional garment that wraps women into layers of history, handiwork, culture and identity.

This 70-minute piece, given its U.S. premiere in performances at the Kennedy Center's Theater Theater, is Sarukkai's first choreography for an ensemble, but you'd never guess, given the artful interweaving of the six dancers (including Sarukkai). It's clear that a firm hand is the precise synchronicity and the harmonies of style, design and rhythm throughout.

Sarukkai is a master of the Indian classical dance form known as bharatanatyam, but she has long stood apart as an iconoclast, bringing contemporary themes and motifs into her performances. I know it here. The dancers, wearing gorgeous pleated and tailored costumes in deep pinks and reds, dart back and forth across the stage, and their crisp, linear patterns evoke the hand-looming of a sari's thousands of threads. Clang of a loom.

Buttons or belts, the simple elegance of a sari, untitched and exquisitely draped rather than bound up by wealth of associations. "A a young dancer, the sari was a proclamation, a sense of purpose," a voice-over tells us. A garment, bestowing confidence and dignity on its wearer, eventually became "an emotion, a state of mind."

It was good to have this bit of narration. At times the dancers delivered small, repeated accents: light, quick jumps, with the feet gathered underneath the body, or squared shoulders and gently pivoting waists, turning like gemstones catching the light. Their softly insistent footwork tapped out beats like a luxurious ornamentation. These and other changes in the dancers' dynamics and shapes seem to echo the embellishments woven into a sari's cloth. Stylized hand gestures, or mudras, and eye movements were subtler but no less impressive marks of expertise, drawing into the life of the mind.

Sarukkai's eyes, especially in the heart of "Thari," communicated deep sympathy, urgent use But we pay attention for complicated reasons, or rather, because One can rave about the flickers of her gaze, or the way she quivers her hands like aspen leaves in a breeze, or how she sinks luxuriously into her hips as though she, too, were woven of silk. But it is the interweaving of these qualities, and others, that make up a stage of presence of unforgettable power.

Documentary filmmaker Sumantra Ghosal (who made "The Speaking Hand" on tabla master Zakir Hussain), collaborated with Sarukkai. Points of light washed over the dancers. These bright pinpoints multiply until they consume everyone, transforming the stage into a brilliant galaxy, dissolving matter into light.

"Thari – The Loom" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. www.kennedy-center.org.

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