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Celebrating Creativity: Life & Work of Uday Shankar  (1900-1977)

 A photo Exhibition on the life and the Times of the Legendary Dancer

8th Dec. 2001 - 31st Dec. 2001

Matighar, IGNCA

View over 220 Photographs of Uday Shankar [ Set 1 |  Set 2 ]

Vishnudharmottarapurana mentions Vina tu nrtta sastrena chitrasutram sudurvidam- without the knowledge of dance the art of painting is difficult to master. In case of Uday Shankar, whose centenary we are celebrating, it is obvious that he knew this inter-relationship and inter-dependence of arts intuitevely. In 1923, when the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, then base in London, asked him to create dance with Indian themes, he choreographed Krishna and Radha possibly in an imaginative manner.

Since he partenered Anna pavlova, the greatest ballerina of the world, he never looked back. From painting to dancing he made a smooth transition. And a dancer war born. He placed Indian dance on the world map as no other Indian dancer prior to him had ever done.

Uday Shankar was born on 8th December, 1900 at Udaipur, Rajasthan in a high caste Brahin Bengali family. 

His contemporaries were none other than the dancers like, Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904-86), Madam Menaka (1899-1947),E. Krishna Iyar (1897-1968), Ram Gopal (1912-)and Tagore (1861-1941) and poet Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878-1957). 

Looking at the rare photographs taken in 1923, it is obvious that Uday shankar invented hi dance movements, drawing inspiration from the Rajput and the Mughal miniature painting, which he saw at the Beitish Museum.

In the West, his counterpart dancers were Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, La Meri, Nyota Inyoka, Mary Wigman, Ragini Devi (mother of Indrani Rahman) and others. They were also interested in Indian themes and spirituality. They also created their own versions of Indian dance which were known as Oriental Dances.

They were all engaged in search of traditional classical dances. The dancers in India succeeded in reviving the classical dance forms in the category of neo-classical. The interest taken by dancers from the West also created an awareness amongst the intelligentia about Indian classical dance tradition.

In case of Uday Shankar, he never had any formal training in any of the classical dance forms. When he formed his own company with financial assistance from Alice Boner-the Swiss Sculptress, he was able to tour with her in Indian extensively, watching traditional, classical and a staggering variety of folk dances, collecting a variety of Indian musical instruments and authentic costumes.

He returned to  Paris in 1931 and rehearsed Vigrously composing few dance numbers, to the music by his close associates Vishnu Dass Shirali and Timir Baran. He guided them in creating effective musical sounds to complement the dance movements he had devised.

The result was stupendous. The audience was mesmerized and was under the spell watching his presentations.  He provided eye-catching costumes for the musicians who sat at the back of the dancers forming a part of the spectacle.  His years with Anna Palova as an apprentice was not wasted.  He had learned the art of showmanship and presentation, which the west could easily accept. 

Uday Shankar was a genius. From the very childhood he was interested in magic, handling camera, music, stage performances and games.  After his successful seven-year tour of Europe and his spectacular success in America under the banner of the impresario Sol Hurok, he intermittantly visited Indian and performed under the banner of the one and only Garen Ghosh.

Guru Rabindranath Tagore welcomed him with open arms hailing him as a harbinger of culture and art of dance.

When in Europe, Uday Shankar had at the invitation of Elmhirst, who had assisted Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in building Sriniketan, visited Dartington Hall, Totnes, Doven for a residency of six months in 1936. At that time thee were Michel Chekhov, the nephew of the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, the German choreographer, Kurl Joos and another German Rudolf Laban who invented the dancenotation.

Uday Shankar watched the methodology of Michel Chekhov and was naturally influenced by him.  The interaction with him benefited all. Uday Shankar drew inspiration from Dartington Hall, and accepted the suggestion of Elmhirst to establish a Centre for Dance in India.  He chose Simtola, near Almora in the United Provinces and by 1940 started his famous Uday Shankar India Culture Centre.  The Centre specialized in training the dancers in the art of creativity, improvisation, concentration and imagination. He devised a course for training of a dancer in various related aspects of the performing arts.

Narendra Sharma, Sachin Shankar, Shanti Bardhan, Prabhat Ganguly, hi former associates including the French dancer Simkie. Zohra, his own brothers Rajendra, Denbendra and Ravi also joined him as students.  He invited also the great Gurus-Sankaran namboodri, Ambi Singh, Kandappa, the musicians Ustad  Allaudin Khan and others.

After an inteval of four years.  Uday Shankar decided to make a film titled Kalpana, which would not only record his choreographic creations but also reach out to larger audience. Vastly gifted, he handled the film medium efficiently.  Kalpana is the only record of hi dances.  He experimented in shadow play and also produced a spectacle carrying a juxtaposition of the stage and the screen in his unique Shankar Scope.  His creativity knew no bounds.  His popularity in America never declined.  Whereas within India, in contrast to his technique, the classical dance forms came into their own and the perception of public seemed to change in preference to the classical dance forms. However, his associates and followers continue to create in their own individual style what they learnt from him.  Foremost amongst them was Shanti Bardhan who gave us immortal Ramayana with human beings performing like puppets. He also introduced the fable of Panchatantra creating movements of the birds and the animals.

Narendra Sharma continues to choreograph and his output is prolific.  Uday Shankar's wife amala Shankar, daughter Mamta Shankar and daughter-in- law Tanushree Shankar carry on the legacy of Uday Shakar follows what he studied from Uday Shankar and continues his admirable work in Kolkata.  It is in Kolkata that one sees the impact of Uday Shankar in terms of welcoming experimental, innovative, contemporary and group work.  Both Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and Uday Shankar have contributed immensely in that direction.

Curating a photo exhibition on the occasion of Uday Shankar's centenary it was possible to see various facets of his creativity. Uday Shankar had, with his unmistakable genius shown originality in his approach and in his choreography.  With great ease he had moved from one discipline to another.  As an icon he continues to inspire the generations of dancers to seek new directions.  Imitation to him was death. He liberated himself from imitation of the tradition and the classical dance forms laying emphasis on seeking the essence of the cultural legacy giving it a distinct Indian identity.  By remembering him we pay homage to one who brought to Indian dance great relevance and respect.

Curated by: Dr.Sunil Kothari

Designed by: Sumant Jayakrishnan

View over 220 Photographs of Uday Shankar [ Set 1 |  Set 2 ]

 


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