UDAY SHANKAR: AN
by Dr. Sunil
The Sunil Kothari Dance Collection
was a genius. He had no formal training in any of the schools of classical
dancing. His dances were creative. He had a wonderful gift of taking the
essence from various dance traditions and techniques and using them to
choreograph his dance – dramas. His contribution lay in his very creative
answer to the challenge of finding and identifying a suitable style and
form to communicate a particular theme. Despite his acquaintance with traditional
dance forms, he cut across all of them so that an integrated composition
could be presented. And in that he succeeded marvelously.
Uday Shankar was earning for Indian dance a great respect abroad and had
succeeded in placing it on the world map in the 1930s, there was, concurrently,
a revival of classical dance forms in India. The poet Vallathol in
Kerala was inspiring people to re-establish the Kathakali dance-dramas;
Rukmini Devi who too, was advised by Anna Pavlova to turn to Indian classical
dance, established Kalakshetra in Madras to train young people in Bharata
Natyam (and every other girl in society was aspiring to becoming a versatile
Bharata Natyam exponent); Madame Menaka was responsible for lending prestige
to Kathak which till then was called Nautch (following in the footsteps
of Uday Shankar, she established her dance school in Khandala near Bombay).
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had already introduced Manipuri dance at his
famous university Shantiniketan. A unique movement of revival of
classical dances had begun and dancers were attempting to discover our
classical dance heritage and tradition. This was but natural in a
period when the spirit of nationalism was awakening with the freedom movement,
and Indians were taking legitimate pride in their indigenous arts in the
face of alien rule.
multi – faceted talent shone forth in his creative works. The experience
he gained from experiments in music composition for his creative dances
during the formative years of his European and American tours was fully
utilized at the Almora Center. Along with Ustad Allaudin Khan, Vishnudass
Shirali (a former student of Pandit Vishnu Digambar), Uday Shankar had,
in Paris, experimented with creative music for his solos, duets and ballets.
to all this was his superb showmanship and emphasis on perfection.
He knew how to keep his audiences hungry for more. He had a remarkable
gift of presenting dances in a very brief time span. But they left an indelible
impression. His own vision of various Indian gods and goddesses was presented
before the audience. And those who have seen his solos of Indra, Karthikeya,
and Shiva recall with great nostalgia the artistic illusion and haunting
images that he created. On stage, his physical beauty was astonishing.
It invariably cast a spell on his audience all over the world. It was an
individual and rare quality that cannot be duplicated. Only its memory
use of only Indian musical instruments, which lent an unusual flavour to
the music of his works and dances is remarkable and many an innovation
of his has today enriched our contemporary musical trends.
works had a sound base. And that was evident in his method of training
at Almora Center, which prepared the dancers for the ballets he produced.
training was all embracing. It included technique of dance, folk dances,
improvisation, stage and costume design, make-up, elementary physical exercises,
expressive movements, development of sensitivity of the body, concentration,
imagination, group feeling and observation, knowledge of steps, psychology
of movements, sense of colour and line, and the relationship of dance to
student Shanti Bardhan was another creative dancer and he devised movements
which had a distinct identity. Among Uday Shankar’s other trainees
and followers, Narendra Sharma, Sachin Shankar, Amala Shankar, Uday Shankar’s
daughter Mamata Shankar and son Ananda Shankar are carrying on his legacy,
and the contemporary modern dance scene is enlivened by their works. The
creative dance movement in India owes its growth to Uday Shankar. He did
not follow tradition blindly. But with his uncanny gifts he transformed
traditional forms into the most extraordinarily memorable works. Artistes
like Uday Shankar come once in a century. Their greatness cannot be duplicated.
They can only serve as an inspiration and guide.
when classical dance forms have become well established, to master them
one has to undergo a thorough training for several years. Dancers have
to face a greater challenge, for they have to recreate an authenticity
or break away from these forms. Therefore, it is impossible for a dancer
to create any kind of impressionistic style which draws from the resources
of classical dance forms like Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Odissi or Kathak.
Those who follow Uday Shankar’s footsteps are searching, groping and sometimes
they get lost. But dance being a dynamic art takes newer forms and creative
artistes all over the world continue to mirror their ecstasies and agonies
through movements that astound the audience.
other dancer in India has rendered a greater service than Uday Shankar
did at the turn of the century, when the rest of the world had forgotten
Indian dance. The world of dance owes him a debt of eternal gratitude for
his pioneering work, for giving Indian dance its pride of place. His contribution
remains of great significance and importance.
Sunil Kothari was professor of Dance at the Rabindra Bharati Universty
at Calcutta. Rabindra Bharati University was given the status of a full
University in 1962 with Uday Shankar in charge of the dance section. After
his demise, the Uday Shankar Chair was created and Dr.Sunil Kothari was
the first to occupy the chair. A dance writer, roving critic,
research scholar, author of many books, he has been the recipient of the
Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.