Mrinalini Sarabhai is the celebrated dancer and choreographer whose reputation for innovation is unmatched—from classical dance to cutting-edge performance art. The syntax of her creativity mediates between a moral commitment to traditional form and the desire to experiment in its precincts. Her technical mastery and creative expressionism has achieved a profoundly versatile language of dance form—simple, eloquent and visually inspiring. It reflects in her modern style, which remains disciplined by the classical technique, imbibed from her guru, Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai.
Born into the renowned Swaminadhan family of Chennai with roots in Kerala, Sarabhai began her training in forms of Bharata Natyam at an early age. After early schooling in Chennai, she went to schools in France and Switzerland. She returned to India and to become a student at Tagore’s path-breaking Visva-Bharati university in Santiniketan, where she was introduced to other art forms of India, at a time when the atmosphere was charged with the spirit of Nationalism. She also trained in Java (Indonesia) and the United States of America, where she studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
At the height of the movement for Independence, she met and married Vikram Sarabhai, the Ahmadabad-based industrialist, scientist and architect of the Indian Space Programme. With his support, she founded Darpana, the academy of dance, drama and music in Ahmedabad, in 1948. Her interest in innovation and in the preservation of dance forms and folk theatre laid a firm foundation to the institution. Over the years, she has directed her troupe and traveled extensively, receiving many accolades and reviews. Her vision to accord the status of an art-form to dance and performance, has led Darpana to become one of the best performance academies in the world.
Sarabhai was Chairperson of the Gujarat State Handicrafts and Handloom Development Corporation (Gurjari) for many years and inculcated the taste of her own vision into the creative work of the artisans, revival of traditional techniques, designs and village crafts. She revived puppetry and folk theatre, by creating special groups within Darpana and inviting artists to work with her.
Her work extends beyond the arena of dance and is firmly integrated with developmental and educational activities in a variety of interest areas. As Chairperson of the Nehru Foundation For Development, Sarabhai has been active in educational efforts in science, nature study, health, development and environment. A keen environmentalist, she is President of Prakriti, an organization committed to preserve the greenery of Ahmedabad, while also addressing other social issues. She is a trustee of the Sarvodaya International Trust, an organization dedicated to promoting Gandhian ideals: Truth, Non Violence, Peace, Universal Brotherhood and Humanitarian Service.
More than 300 dance-dramas are to her credit as a choreographer, and many of those were written by her. She is a writer of novels, poetry, plays and stories for children, published by Children’s Book Trust, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and Tata McGraw Hill. Her latest dance-dramas, the musical Krishna–Gopala and This Mahabharata, mirror today’s world.
She received many distinguished awards and citations in recognition for her artistic eminence, including Padma Bhushan (1992) by Government of India, the Desikottama (D. Litt Honoris Causa, 1987) from Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, and the medal and Diploma of the French Archives Internationales de la dansei from the French Government. She was made a Fellow of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi in 1994.