Sneha Bharadwaj is a professional Indian classical dancer and has, over many years, established a Bharatnatyam scene in Munich, Germany. She graduated from Bangalore University with a bachelors degree in choreography, and later, from Bharatidasan University with a master’s degree in fine art. A recipient of many prestigious awards, Sneha has performed at various dance festivals in and around India, Germany, USA, France, Switzerland, Poland and other countries. She is also trained in Indian Martial Arts and Yoga. She is the founder and artistic director of the Indian dance school & company in Munich, ‘Abhinaya Indischer Tanz’ and ‘Abhinaya Tanz Kampani‘. By empowering through art, she hopes to continue celebrating South Asian art in Europe in all its glory.
In the second part of the In Conversation series, I spoke to Sneha about the art form she excels in, the highs and lows of it, and if the combination of science and dance is an arena that can be successfully explored.
How and when were you inspired to take up dancing as a hobby?
It was my mom`s dream to dance and she wanted me explore movements…for as long as I remember we both use to swirl and twirl to music, and she saw me the happiest when music was on and I jumped to express. With a busy school schedule, dance became a part of me. I was 5 when I started my formal training in Indian Classical Dance Bharatanatyam, under Late Guru (teacher) H.K.Raj who nurtured me into a dancer that I am today.
Do you remember the moment when you decided to pursue it professionally?
The process to pursue Art as my profession was very organic. I PROUDLY took up Art in the university…but the path, in the beginning, was scary. You see, socially, art is still not a valid profession because of the financial viability and no laid out career path, and so very early on I realized uncertainty is what you sign up for when you say you want to live a creative life.
Your question made me look back and I cannot pinpoint to a particular moment as when I decided to pursue it as my profession; art has been my constant companion, my happiness.
What would you say is the most exciting part of your art? Is there a mundane/difficult aspect to it as well?
Everything! The highs and the lows of creative process. Perhaps the most difficult part for me is the emotions. We artists work with our emotions, which are sometimes our own and sometimes the story or the particular character that we are working on and at some point, it does get exhausting to carry intellectual emotions and emotional empathy of a subject all through. Unfortunately (or fortunately) there is no particular login and log out in a creative process.
Whenever I experience feelings of discomfort in my life, I need to find an answer by transforming those feelings into my art. As much fun as I have in the studio, I take my role as an artist very seriously and I think being socially and politically aware of my surroundings is very, very important.
Choreographing is always like bringing new characters and stories to life and even parts of ourselves to stage. My storytelling arcs rely largely on research, community, and lived experience to form what I call a kind of constellation. And when the time comes to stop or to exhibit, I never really finish; all my works constantly grow in me, as the more you try to say, the more there is to tell. It is all about weaving a thought you have into a tapestry for others to see and be moved by.
If someone who isn’t well versed in Indian Classical Dance asked you to explain your art form (Bharatanatyam) to them in 3 or 4 sentences, what would you say?
Bharatanatyam is one of the major tradition of performing arts in India. It originated in the temples of India. The classical dance form Bharatanatyam is a profound synthesis of aesthetics, philosophy, sculpture, movements, poetry and literature. The art form is a mirror for ethics, laws, and the functioning of the society of today and of the past. It gathers all these strands and sets them in motion.
As someone who has pursued art professionally for a large part of their life, have you tried exploring the scientific aspect of your work? If, that is, you believe there is a scientific aspect to dance?
We live in a world of motion, energy, space, and time. Certainly, there is physics in dance…Bharathanatyam and Classical Ballet is an orchestration of the pull of the earth and freedom of space. It is indeed interesting when an analysis of physics is added to dance but I haven’t explored in depth. I hope to work on this path in the near future.
What emotional and physical benefits does dance have on our body? Have you experienced these benefits within yourself?
I always approach my work at 3 levels:
On a physical level (Adibhuta), dancing is similar to that of other cardio activities — it works on all planes of the body, including lateral and rotational, which in turn conditions all muscles.
On an emotional level, (Adidaiva) it is an instrument to express, as it allows you to express every drop of emotion, to feel, and to unapologetically be yourself.
On a philosophical level, (Adhyatma), it is a journey inwards. By completely absorbing our attention for a long or short magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are.
Sat-Chit-Ananda is the term I always try to see in my every practice and performance where,
Sat – To be present
Chit – One with the Art
Ananda – untainted bliss
Do you believe we can use dance forms to communicate scientific concepts and increase accessibility to science?
Art is about connecting with people’s emotions. It’s personal and at the same time, universal.
In art forms, we are telling stories and stories should have characters and characters should have emotions. As I have mentioned, art is not just an intellectual process but also an emotional process. So if you are able to characterize or add emotions to science then it can be performed but it won’t stand as an epic work.
Science, the law of nations, constitution or commerce, economics, etc, when highly anthropomorphized and personified, can be brought to art. Just with pure dance (termed as Nritta) one can depict many scientific concepts (gravity, the structure of atoms etc.) but it will be a visual representation. One can definitely communicate scientific theory through art, but they would not become entertainment unless you humanize them.
Science concerns itself purely with the material world (Adibuta), while art transcends one from the material world to beliefs and emotions (Adhidaiva) and graduates to the philosophical world (Adhyatma).
Of course, experiments and science can be communicated through art forms like dance, but one needs to balance it, as there is a huge difference between the intellectual and emotional sphere. As a choreographer, you have to be very careful: you must make sure the science is not incorrect and that the art form still makes an impact on the heart.
If you had the chance to work with a scientist(s) to produce a show that revolves around a scientific concept, which field of science would you choose and why?
I believe an artist’s role is almost that of an alchemist. If I had to choose a scientific field, it would be physics; collaborating with the ideas that encompass both dance and physics is definitely worth the effort.