I must confess that I have been keenly following Sagarika’s journey as a young Bharatanatyam prodigy and she every time has always ‘danced’ surpassed all expectations. In June, just before the lockdown came into effect, we Sydney siders got to see another display of her talent through “Bhakthi”, a solo pursuit. While the audience were awe-struck and mesmerised with every rendition, there was one question on every lip, “How could someone so young perform with such depth of maturity?” So, I decided it was time to get to know Sagarika a little more and also how she had matured as a dancer since I spoke with her two years ago.
Sagarika started learning Bharatanatyam from the tender age of four. At the time it seemed the natural thing to do as her mother, Manjula Vishwanath is a renowned dancer and teacher. It wouldn’t come as surprise if the first sounds that Sagarika learnt to recognise were the sounds of the ankle bells that Bharatanatyam dancers wear. Little did she realise the impact this dance form would have on her life. “It seemed that when everything else was continuously changing in my life, dance was my constant,” says Sagarika. She further continues, “Bharatanatyam has taught me so much about our culture, our beliefs, our values. I would be incomplete if dance did not exist in my life”.
Watching Sagarika dance is a beautiful sight. Like most children, she started on this learning journey very casually; at the beginning it was about meeting the other students and having fun. But soon her teacher realised that she had a flair and was a natural dancer. The time had come for her to invest more into learning the dance form and getting better at it. Things began to change and by the time she was eight, she started devoting more time to learning and practising what she had learnt. She had her first solo performance when she was nine, but when she watched her performance later, she realised that she could have done better. “So, watching my own self perform is the best way I have learnt to correct myself,” she says. She believes she has gained more poise, grace, and balance with regular practise. She also has learnt to comprehend the Indian mythology better which helps her bring out her bhavas or emotions better. Regular and committed practice has helped build her stamina and the fact that she could dance non-stop for one and half hours during the “Bhakthi” performance is a testament to that.
Sagarika takes her dance very seriously and is considering it as one of her careers in the future. Though the love for Bharatanatyam has consumed her life, she balances it well with academics. When asked about her daily routine, she says, “To be honest I don’t do any other extra curriculars due to lack of time. My focus is only on my academics and dance. I train about 20-30 hours a week in dance. After my school, I train about three weekdays and on weekends. My life is all about dance and studying.” She has watched her mother multitask and feels she is able to do it too. She has a well-structured routine that gives her ample time to focus on her schoolwork and practice dance. She understands that a dancer needs to have patience and commitment in abundance to be able to excel.
Sagarika knows what her strengths are as a dancer, and this is a great quality to have. When asked to elaborate, she says with a smile, “My expressions. I can bring any character to life as I feel the character. I also feel grace is also my biggest strength and of course, along with my smile”. She is of the strong belief that, “Lots of style and grace in dancing is definitely required for a dancer”. For someone as young as her, Sagarika takes the accolades she receives with a maturity way beyond her years. She is delighted that people who come to watch her perform, enjoy her performance, and feel a connection. “If your audience can’t relate to you, I guess they would be bored. So definitely there must be something right that I am doing”, she remarks.
Sagarika practised for her solo production, “Bhakthi” along with her preparation for the year 6 Selective Schools exam. When questioned about the choice of the concept, she said, “As I said earlier my strength lies in my expressions and I wanted to bring out my devotion in dance, my mom and I decided that ‘Bhakthi’ is one of the hardest bhavams to work on for a 11-year-old like me and would be a good challenge to take on”. She acknowledges that she is extremely fortunate to have her mother as her guru, who explained the characters and their emotions in detail. This helped her understand and grasp them better. The 2-month long training was intense. Of all the different stories of Bhakthi presented, my absolute favourite was the one depicting Lord Hanuman. Sagarika brought out the mischievous nature of the monkey-God very well. Incidentally, that is her favourite piece too.
Finally, Sagarika’s message to all aspiring, young dancers is never to give up and to be consistent, patient and extremely committed. “Bharatanatyam is not something that one can learn overnight, it does take a lot of time and effort to learn this art form, sometimes it can be tiring physically, but the outcome is just brilliant”. When asked where she sees herself in the next two years, she said, “I love the space I am in at the moment. I want to learn more, train more, perform more which will help make me a better dancer. I want to travel the world performing. And we have plans on that”.
Wish you the very best, Sagarika! Looking forward to more amazing performances by you.