The Best Of Two Worlds, Uday Shankar

Uday Shankar

Uday Shankar (December 8, 1900, Udaipur, India—September 26, 1977, Kolkata (Calcutta)), an Indian dancer and choreographer who popularised traditional Hindu dance in India, Europe, and the United States through his adaptation of Western theatrical techniques to the ancient art form.

As Uday Shankar Chowdhury, he was born into a Bengali household. With his mother and brothers, Uday spent much of his youth at his maternal uncle’s residence in Nasratpur. This was due to his father’s job, which required him to relocate frequently. Uday had to shift schools at Nasratpur, Gazipur, Varanasi, and Jhalawar as a result of this. Uday was not exposed to dance until he was in high school in Gazipur, where he also became acquainted with other art forms such as music and photography.

Shankar received a professional art study in Mumbai in 1917 and went on to the Royal College of Art in London two years later. He performed alongside Anna Pavlova in the 1920s and choreographed two dances for her programme Oriental Impressions: Hindu Wedding and the duet Radha and Krishna. Shankar founded his dance troupe in India after returning in 1929. His troupe toured Europe in 1930 and was a regular visitor to the United States from 1932 to the 1960s. In Almora, Uttaranchal, in 1938, he established the Uday Shankar India Culture Centre (now Uttarakhand). (During World War II, the school for dance, drama, and music was closed, but it restarted in Kolkata in 1965.)

He explored classical and folk dance, as well as creating dance dramas with social commentary, with his brother, sitarist Ravi Shankar. Even though traditional Indian dancers were critical of Shankar’s art, prominent Indians such as poet Rabindranath Tagore were among Shankar’s fans.

His close relatives, including his wife, daughter, and daughter-in-law, are continuing Uday Shankar’s legacy. Amala Shankar took over the Uday Shankar Indian Culture Center in Kolkata when he died in 1977. His daughter-in-law Tanushree Shankar formed the Tanushree Shankar Dance Company, which teaches his style of dance. Mamata Shankar established the ‘Udayan Kala Kendra’ to continue her father’s tradition.

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