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Kathak with Science – Sunil Sunkara


The debate of Science versus Arts and which one outwits the other is an eternal one. If science is about the fact, art is about fiction and beauty.  If Science delves into the world and beyond, Arts is about searching within. Science lacks the capacity of the arts- concern for the individual experience and to search for its human meaning. The humanities and science in our time present an issue of this sort. The bridge the gap of the distinction between these two forms of knowledge and understanding and their relationship to one another is of long-standing. However, Sunil Sunkara has been successful in combining the intricacies of the arts with the knowledge of science. He is an artistic scientist who has the best of both worlds.

Sunil Sunkara is a Scientist, Chemical Engineer, Founder and volunteer to many cultural initiatives and most importantly a Professional Kathak Dancer. He has performed in various shows across India and abroad and been an active promoter of Indian art across the world. The team at Eureka Moment sat down with Sunil to know more about his journey of the beautiful amalgamation of the two disciplines. Here are the excerpts of the interview. 

As a classical dancer, we are used to failure. Today we find a lot of students who are worried about failure, as a classical dancer we get tuned to it that it’s okay to fail as long as you pick yourself up and move on.  – Sunil Sunkara 

Q: Being both, an artist and a scientist what is your perspective about Indian dance forms?

A: When we talk of science the things that come to mind are logic, analysis and codification of technique. In dance, there is a codification of technique and logic because things have to be done in a specific way and an intuitive ability. As a scientist I can say that art is also a science when we look at it in a holistic way and science is also art. When they both come together it is very interesting to me. The most significant dance text we have the Natya Shastra written around 5000 years ago literally translated it means the science of dance.

Q: What are the key differentiators between Kathak and other forms of dance?

A:  When people watch Kathak they think of the spins or chakkars which are very significant to that dance form we have 10, 15 or even 100 of them in a routine. The other thing is long, elaborate and speedy foot work that presented to the audience as a special piece not as a part of anything else. One differentiator that Kathak has from other dance forms is that it belongs to a much bigger geographical area, essentially the entire North India. That dance was more like a way of life. Different elements of the region got connected to be called this dance form 

Q: A change in your life that you want to make going ahead 

A: To try not to be late and be more punctual  

Q: A song that has always elevated your mood 

A: Aaj Jaane ki zid na Karo, which is one of my favourites

Q: How do you see the adoption of Indian classical dance form versus the western dance form?

A: Both Indian classical, as well as western dance, exist in India right now. What comes from western dancing influence is the prominence of the body, looking a certain way and being presented a certain way what comes from Indian classical dancing is the story and the narrative that the body transforming into a particular character or a particular narrative and both of these are coming together in India. We have people doing the movement, vocabulary of classical dances fusion or collaboration as we can call it kathak or Indian dances to other music. Another way you have the western dancers using their dance form on Indian narrative. It is difficult to say what is good or bad

Q: What do think are the prerequisites for a person to enter into Kathak?

A: The prerequisite to enter any class is to be ready to accept that maybe this is not for me. We should go to a class with an open mind. I want to try something new, this could be for me or this could not be for me that doesn’t mean I am bad or the dance form is bad. There is no definite prerequisite for Kathak because it is such a natural dance form anyone of any age or body shape can start learning Kathak.

Q: What are the initiatives that are taken in India to promote such dance forms?

A: There are a number of initiatives taken by the ministry of culture. They have scholarships each year which is a monetary scholarship both for young dancers to pursue their studies as well as for older dancers to pursue research in dance. There are a number of these scholarships right from the initial level up to scholarships that pay almost 2 lakhs at a higher level when you are doing research. There are schools in India doing grants like the Production grant or the library grant.  

Q: Tell us about your Eureka MomentA: In 2016 along with Natalia I went for a workshop conducted by Pandit Birju Maharaj ji in Chicago and there when I saw him perform I experienced the way he brought Krishna alive on stage. That was when I thought that this was something that could be a spiritual journey also. Then I started learning with a little more seriousness, started following people online seeing more videos. Instead of simply coming to class I started thinking about it some more. Around December 2014 I was performing in the art of living Ashram for Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Ji. After the performance I was talking to Guruji, telling him all about my research and what I have done in science. He said all that is good but you should do Kathak, I would like you to perform and we should create groups. In a span of two minutes he laid out a road map for something that I wanted to do but I had some fear or insecurity. I needed that push and that push couldn’t have come from my Kathak teachers, my family or even me because the element of doubt would come in. but the moment he said it and he took the time out of his supremely busy schedule. I didn’t think I was in the consequence of things that were happening for him to take out those five-ten minutes to talk to me on his own accord when I didn’t even expect him to talk to me. So that’s when I knew if he’s saying it this is what I have to do so that’s how it happened.


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