A lbert Einstein said that dancers are the "athletes of God"--and surely bharatanatyam soloist Malavika Sarukkai is among the most divine. Bharatanatyam, which originated in south India, combines rhythmic footwork, intricate hand gestures, and a range of facial expressions in both "pure" dances and dramatic storytelling, traditionally based on ancient Hindu mythology. Sarukkai has transformed such storytelling by exploring contemporary themes, such as longing in Uthkanta and our links to the environment in Srinkhala. Over three decades she's danced in more than 25 countries; now she comes to Chicago to perform one of three programs at an international conference on the changing nature of bharatanatyam. Watching her dance is an exhilarating experience not to be missed: though petite, she has an overwhelming stage presence, consuming the space, bringing to the stage so much style, creativity, grace, and energy that it's as if the gods had dropped her from the heavens. Chicago's Natya Dance Theatre performs Shakti Chakra--The Energy Cycle Thursday, Sarukkai performs Friday, and Chandralekha and Dancers perform Sharira--Fire and Desire Saturday and Sunday. Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-8300. Opens Thursday, September 6, 7:30 PM. Through September 9: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. Thursday performance is $25; Friday, Saturday, and Sunday performances are $40.