Every time I watch stills or films capturing the late Pandit Uday Shankar dancing – I am transported, where dream and experience become one for the dancer within me. I am inspired, I am bereft that a great Guru and proponent of the art form is no longer with us, and I am grateful to the visionary who gave us his love letter to dance with his 1948 film Kalpana, and a own unique body of movements and expressions that took from classical indian dances as well as western ballet and modern movements, to give us an inspired and fluid dance form that is practiced the world over under his moniker.
Born in Rajasthan, India in 1900, Pandit Uday Shankar has been lauded as the father of Modern Indian Dance. With approximately 82-dance sequences choreographed primarily by Shankar himself, this was not only a prolific artiste, but one with a drive to realise a specific vision.
Trained classically in Indian traditions as well as influenced by folk traditions such as the Ram-Lila, along with his collaboration with ballerina Anna Pavlova, Shankar was floated between being a dance student, an investigator and creator.
Consciously or unconsciously Pandit Uday Shankar created a very fluid, striking and most importantly nouveau Indian dance form. One that encompassed two distinct heritages and approaches to movement and posture, aspiring to be, in his hands, and the mind and body of its practitioners an elegant commentator on the social as well as the political issues of that time.
Pandit Uday Shankar and his style of dance changed worldwide perceptions of movement, form and what classical dance traditions could be. Today the Pandit Uday Shankar Style of Dance is a living breathing expression of self and extension of its progenitor.
The best source to see this dance phenomenon in action is Kalpana. It can be accessed in full and for free at http://pad.ma/CFN/info , under the creative commons license. An amalgam of all that Shankar was as a dancer and as an artiste, the film is a musical fantasy about a young dancer’s dream of establishing a dance academy. Part fiction part autobiographical, Kalpana, restored and released with the efforts of his late wife Amala Shankar, and Martin Scorsese’s World Cine Foundation.