The soul the sari: Indian dancer Malavika Sarukkai weaves steps in silk

Decoration is a reflection of the heart, Coco Chanel wrote. The famous Indian dance artist Malavika Sarukkai records this thread in Thari – The Loom & # 39 ;, an enchanting and deeply imaginative work inspired by the sari, the traditional garment that envelops a woman in layers of history, craftsmanship, culture and identity.

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

Sarukkai is a master in the Indian classical dance form known as bharatanatyam, but she has long stood apart as an iconoclast, with contemporary themes & motifs in her performances. So it is here. The dancers, dressed in beautiful pleated and tailor-made costumes in deep pink and red tones, shoot back and forth across the stage, and their clear, linear patterns evoke the hand thrust of the thousands of threads of a sari. The recorded sound combined the traditional rolling, rising drumming with the rhythmic rattling of a loom.

The simple elegance of a sari, un-taped and beautifully draped rather than tied by zippers, buttons or straps, offers a wealth of associations. "As a young dancer, the sari was a proclamation, a sense of purpose," says a voice-over. The garment, which gives confidence and dignity to the wearer, eventually became "an emotion, a state of mind."

It was good to have this piece of narrative, because the movement was mostly abstract. Sometimes the dancers gave small, repeated accents: light, fast jumps, with the feet gathered under the body, or square shoulders and softly turning waists, rotating like gems that catch the light. Their gently pressing footwork tapped like a luxurious decoration. These and other changes in the dynamics and forms of the dancers seemed to reflect the embellishments that had been woven into a sari cloth. Stylized hand gestures, or mudras, and eye movements were subtler but no less impressive traces of expertise that brought us to the life of the mind.

Sarukkai's eyes, especially in her solo in the heart of Thari, said deep sympathy and urged us to pay attention to each crook. But we pay attention to complicated reasons, or rather, because every sharpened muscle in her body commands it. You can marvel at the thrill of emotions in her gaze, or at the way she vibrates her hands like rattling pages in a gust of wind, or how she plunges luxuriously into her hips as if she were also woven from silk. But it is the interwovenness of these qualities, and others, that constitute a stage presence of unforgettable power.

Documentary maker Sumantra Ghosal (who made "The Speaking Hand" on tabla maestro Zakir Hussain) worked with Sarukkai. His touch was seen especially in the end, when projections of starry light washed light over the dancers. These bright dots multiply until they digest everyone, transform the stage into a magnificent galaxy, dissolve matter into light.

"Thari – The Loom" will be carried out at 19.30. Saturday at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.