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Tête-à-tête

Breaking art-science divide

Dancer and scientist Dr. Sharada Srinivasan's latest effort Danse e-Toile: Nataraja et le Cosmos showcased a lyrical synthesis of art, science and advanced technology. She chats with ARUNA CHANDARAJU


Distant streaming and e-interaction seemed a novel way to explore the enigmasof the cosmos




Finding art in science: Dr. Sharada Srinivasan

Art and science have always been considered disparate entities. Very different fields operating on distinctly different parameters. However, acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer and award-winning art historian, archaeo-metallurgist and scientist Dr.Sharada Srinivasan has proved that the twain does meet. An IIT graduate with a doctorate from University College, London (her Phd thesis was done from 1990 to 1996) and now Associate Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, Sharada has been breaking art-science boundaries to show that there is art in science and vice-versa. She successfully uses dance to respond to academic insights and as a bridge between scientific scholarship and art.

Her most recent success and pioneering effort was “Danse e-Toile: Nataraja et le Cosmos” (Nataraja and the Cosmos) in October. It was the first-ever live, intercontinental, Internet-streamed, interactive dance and music programme between India and Europe. It showcased a lyrical synthesis of art, science and advanced technology. The event was an innovative art-science collaboration between Sharada and French dance company K.Danse led by Jean-Marc Matos and Anne Holst for the International Year of Astronomy 2009.

It had simultaneous dance recitals: Sharada performing at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) facility, Bangalore and contemporary dancer Anusha Emrith in Space City, Toulouse. Audiences at the twovenues watched the onstage performance while also viewing live - on a giant screen - the other-country and local performance coalescing together. Aided by monitors, the artistes watched and danced in real-time response to each other's images. For online audiences, there was a web-cast.Sharada tells us about this event and more.

When and how did your interests in classical dance and science begin to merge?

My Ph.D. work on archaeo-metallurgical and ethno-metallurgical aspects of South Indian bronzes was a deliberate move to explore the common ground between art and science; and dance too. After all, scientists like Carl Sagan noted that the Chola Nataraja bronze of Siva, evoked a sense of the cosmos.

Tell us more about your fascinating photo-montage exhibition on Nataraja that accompanied the event.

The exhibition was at this wonderful science museum of Cité De L'Espace (Space City), Toulouse. It impressionistically wove sculptural aesthetics, dance and ritual with the metallurgical realities of bronze-casting and perceptions of the cosmos (through studies of medieval Chola bronzes and of foundries at Swamimalai); all through the lens of a Bharatanatyam dancer.

When and why was “Danse e-Toile” conceived?

My avant-garde French collaborators Jean-Marc and Anne have done frontline digital choreography including Internet-streamed dance. So, distant streaming and e-interaction seemed a novel way to explore the enigmas of the cosmos. As artist Sultana Hasan commented, the interplay between structured Indian Bharatanatyam and freewheeling western contemporary dance conveyed something of the Cartesian order versus quantum chaos prevalent in our universe.

What kind of time and effort went into its planning and execution?

Eight distant online and10 joint offline video rehearsals in France and India for us all! The music had exchanges between composer David Fiéffe, mridangist Gurumurthy and live-streamed veena by Geetha Navale. The French team added ‘spacey effects', scientific ‘noise', autorickshaw whirring and even a Tamil chat on what is ‘Kadavul' or God!

A project like this is a huge technical and artistic challenge. How did you pull it off?

Oh, it was a staggering effort! It involved videographic and computer skills. The Indian production team included my husband Digvijay Mallah and Rakesh Mannar working with IIA scientists. IIA had the high bandwidth to net-stream life-like, life-size figures.

Tell us about the French connection?

France actively promotes art-science interface through festivals like La Novela where Danse e-Toile featured. The streaming and webcast were done through Théâtre Paris-Villette's website. It's a novel way of transcending geographical boundaries!

You are a wife, mother, classical dancer, scientist, writer, science-teacher, choreographer, art historian… How do you manage?

It's tough! But we are all capable of living out many realities and roles; a bit like the multidimensional depiction of Nataraja; sometimes as formless akasha or space, the dancing form, or the semi-form.

“Danse e-Toile” was also about negotiating spaces: inner and outer, real and virtual, local and global, traditional and avant-garde, classical versus quantum.

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