Uday Shankar (8 December 1900 - 26 September 1977) (Bengali: উদয় শংকর), was an Indian dancer and choreographer, best known for adapting Western theatrical techniques to traditional Indian classical dance, imbued with elements of Indian classical, folk, and tribal dance, thus laying the roots of modern Indian dance, which he later popularized in India, Europe, and the United States in 1920s and 1930s and effectively placed Indian dance on the world map. He was a pioneer of modern dance in India.
In 1962, he was awarded by Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's The National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama, with its highest award, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship for lifetime achievement, and in 1971, the Govt. of India, awarded him with its second highest civilian award the Padma Vibhushan.
Early life and education:
He was born Uday Shankar Chowdhury, in Udaipur, Rajasthan, to a Bengali family with origins in Narail (present Bangladesh). His father Shyam Shankar Chowdhury, a noted barrister, was employed with the Maharaja of Jhalawar in Rajasthan at the time of his eldest son's birth, while his mother Hemangini Devi was descended from a Bengali zamindari family. His father was conferred the title, 'Harchowdhury' by the Nawabs, but he preferred to use surname 'Chowdhury' minus 'Har.' His younger brothers were Rajendra Shankar, Debendra Shankar, Bhupendra Shankar and Ravi Shankar. Of his siblings, Bhupendra died young in 1926.
His father was a Sanskrit scholar, who graduated with honours from the Calcutta University and later studied at the Oxford University, where he became a Doctor of Philosophy. Since his father moved frequently on account of his work, the family spent much time in Uday's maternal uncle's house at Nasratpur with his mother and brothers. Uday's studies also took place at various locations including Nasratpur, Gazipur, Varanasi, and Jhalawar. At his Gazipur school, he learnt music and photography from Ambika Charan Mukhopaddhay, his Drawing and Crafts teacher.
In 1918, at the age of eighteen, he was sent to Mumbai to train at the J. J. School of Art and then to Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. By now, Shyam Shankar had resigned his post in Jhalawar and moved to London. Here he married an English woman and practiced law, before becoming an amateur impresario, introducing Indian dance and music to Britain. Subsequently, Uday joined his father in London, and on 23 August 1920, joined the Royal College of Art, London to study painting under Sir William Rothenstein. He danced at a few charity performances that his father had organized in London, and on one such occasion, noted Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova happened to be present. This was to have a lasting impact on his career.
Uday Shankar did not have any formal training in any of the Indian classical dance forms. Nevertheless, his presentations were creative. From a young age, he had been exposed to both Indian classical dance and folk dance, as well as to ballet during his stay in Europe. He decided to bring elements of both the styles together to create a new dance, which he called Hi-dance. He went on to translate classical Indian dance forms and their iconography to dance movements, after studying the Rajput painting and Mughal painting styles at the British Museum. Further during his stay in Britain, he came across several performing artists, subsequently when he left for Rome on the 'Prix de Rome' scholarship of French Government, for advanced studies in art.
Soon his interaction with such artists grew and so did the idea to transform Indian dance into a contemporary form. The turning point came with his first meetings with legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. She was looking for artists to collaborate on India-based themes. This led to the creation of ballets based on Hindu themes, 'Radha-Krishna', a duet with Anna, and 'Hindu Wedding', for inclusion in her production, 'Oriental Impressions'. The ballet was presented at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London. Later he continued to conceive and choreograph ballets, including one based on the Ajanta Caves frescoes, which was performed across the United States. In time his style of dance came to be known as 'Hi-dance', though later he called it 'Creative dance'.
He worked with Anna for one and a half years, before starting out on his own in Paris.
Shankar returned to India in 1927, along with a French pianist, Simon Barbiere, who was now his disciple and dance partner, and a Swiss sculptres nl:Alice Boners, Alice Bonner, who wanted to study Indian art history. He was welcomed by Rabindranath Tagore himself, who also persuaded him to open a performing arts school in India.
On his return to Paris in 1931, he founded Europe's first Indian dance company, along with Alice Bonner, who by now had become one of his disciples. Together with musicians Vishnu Dass Shirali and Timir Baran, he created a new template for music to accompany his newly devised movements. His first series of dance performances was held on March 3, 1931, at the Champs-Elysees Theatre in Paris, which was to become his base as he toured through Europe.
Soon he embarked on a seven-year tour through Europe and America with his own troupe, which he called - 'Uday Shankar and his Hindu Ballet', under the ageis of impresario Sol Hurok and Celebrity Series of Boston of impresario, Aaron Richmond. He performed in the United States for the first time in January 1933 in New York City, along with his dance partner Simkie, a French dancer. As part of the visit, a reception was held at the Grand Central Art Galleries. After, Shankar and his troupe set out on an 84-city tour throughout the country.
His adaptation of western theatrical techniques to Indian dance made his art hugely popular both in India and the West, and he is rightly credited for ushering in a new era for traditional Indian temple dances, which until then had been known for their strict interpretations, and which were also going through their own revival. Meanwhile, his brother Ravi Shankar was helping to popularize Indian classical music in the West.
In 1936, he was invited by Leonard Knight Elmhirst, who had earlier assisted Rabindranath Tagore in building Sriniketan, close to Shanti Niketan, to visit Dartington Hall, Totnes, Doven for a six-month residency, with his troupe and lead dancer, Simkie. Also present there were Michel Chekhov, nephew of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, the German modern dancer-choreographer, Kurt Jooss and another German Rudolf Laban, who had invented a system of dance notation. This experience only added more exuberance to his expressionist dance.
In 1938, he made India his base, and established the 'Uday Shankar India Cultural Centre', at Simtola, 3 km from Almora, in Uttarakhand Himalayas, and invited Sankaran Namboodri for Kathakali, Kandappa Pillai for Bharatanatyam, Ambi Singh for Manipuri and Ustad Allauddin Khan for music. Soon, he had a large assemblage of artists and dancers, including Guru Dutt, Shanti Bardhan, Simkie, Amala, Satyavati, Narendra Sharma, Ruma Guha Thakurta, Prabhat Ganguly, Zohra Sehgal, Uzra, Lakshmi Shankar, Shanta Gandhi; his own brothers Rajendra, Denbendra and Ravi also joined him as students. The centre, however, closed after four years in 1942, due to a paucity of funds. As his students dispersed, he regrouped his energies and headed South, where he made his only film, Kalpana (Imagination) in 1948, based on his dance, in which both he and his wife Amala Shankar danced. The film was produced and shot at Gemini Studios, Madras.
Uday Shankar settled in Ballygunge, Kolkata in 1960, where the "Uday Shankar Center for Dance" was later opened in 1965. In 1962 he was awarded the highest award of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship for lifetime contribution to Indian dance
Uday married his dance partner Amala Shankar, and together they had a son Ananda Shankar born in 1942 and a daughter Mamata Shankar born in 1955. Ananda Shankar became a musician and composer who trained with Dr. Lalmani Misra rather than with his brother, Ravi Shankar, and in time became known for his fusion music, encompassing both Western and Indian music styles. Mamata Shankar, a dancer like her parents, became a noted actress, working in films by Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen. She now also runs the 'Udayan Dance Company' in Kolkata, and travels extensively through the world.
After his death in 1977, Amala Shankar took over the Kolkata school, which continues to offer training in folk and classical dance, improvisation, costume design, etc. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1991. Ananda Shankar's wife, Tanushree Shankar, also continues to teach and perform his style of Indian modern dance, through the 'Tanushree Shankar Dance Company', also based in the city. Years after his school at Almora was disbanded, his followers and associates continued to spread his innovative style of dancing and his aesthetic through their own work. Many went on to form their own companies, thus creating an everlasting legacy of his immense body of work and influence on the dancers of his generation. Among them is Shanti Bardhan, who has created Ramayana ballets presentations using human beings performing like puppets, while also introducing the Panchatantra tales into dances by creating movements of birds and the animals. Onkar Mullick, who was one of his main dancers in the troupe. Guru Dutt, who attended his school, went on to become one of India's finest film directors. Another student, Lakshmi Shankar, later changed careers and became a noted classical singer, who later married Rajendra Shankar, the younger brother of Uday Shankar. Zohra Sehgal made a career for herself in stage, television, and the cinema both in India and in Britain. Satyavati later danced with Ram Gopal at The Royal Festival Hall in London and at the Edinburgh festival in 1956. She taught Indian dance to thousands of young girls in Bombay through her classes in several of the convent schools in the city during a teaching career that spanned more than four decades.
In December 1983, his younger brother, sitar player Ravi Shankar organized a four-day festival, Uday-Ustav Festival in New Delhi, marking the 60th anniversary of his professional debut in 1923, highlighted by performances by his disciples, films, an exhibition and orchestral music composed and orchestrated by Ravi Shankar himself. The centenary celebrations of his birth were formally launched at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on April 26, 2001, where dancers, choreographers and scholars from all over the world assembled to pay homage to the master.,
The Golf Club road has been renamed to Uday Shankar Sarani at Tollygunge area of south Kolkata.
1960: Sangeet Natak Akademi Award - 'Creative Dance' ,
1962: Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship,
1971: Padma Vibhushan,
1975: Desikottama, Visva-Bharati University,
Discography (not complete):
The Original Uday Shankar Company of Hindu Musicians, Recorded During the Historic 1937 Visit to the United States, instrumental ensemble: Vishnudass Shirala, Sisir Sovan, Rabindra (Ravi Shankar), Dulal Sen, Nagen Dey, Brijo Behari
Indian Music: Ragas and Dances, The Original Uday Shankar Company of Hindu Musicians. Recorded during the historic 1937 visit to the United State. RCA/Victrola VIC-1361 (1968 reissue, 10 tracks: 4 ragas, 5 danses, 1 bhajan),
Ravi Shankar:Flowers of India El Records (2007), containing all tracks from the original album,
Uday Shankar and his art, by Projesh Banerji. Published by B.R. Pub. Corp., 1982.,
His Dance, His Life: A Portrait of Uday Shankar, by Mohan Khokar. Published by Himalayan Books, 1983.,
Uday Shankar, by Paschimbanga Rajya Sangeet Akademi. Published by West Bengal State Sangeet Academy, Information & Cultural Affairs Dept., Govt. of West Bengal, 2000.,
Uday Shankar, by Ashoke Kumar Mukhopadhyay. 2008. ISBN 81-291-0265-X.,
Honoring Uday Shankar, by Fernau Hall. Dance Chronicle, Volume 7, Issue 3 1983, pages 326 - 344.,
Uday Shankar's Short Biography 1900-1977 , A.H. Jaffor Ullah,
Who Remembers Uday Shankar?, Prof. Joan L. Erdman,
Uday Shankar―the choreographer par excellence: A pictorial view, A.H. Jaffor Ullah,
Uday Shankar Troupe's 1937 Recordings of Indian Ragas, A.H. Jaffor Ullah