Narendra Sharma interviewed by Shreya Kumar (2007)

Contemporary Dance in India has a relatively short history. Since the perception of Contemporary can vary from dancer to dancer, this dance form cannot be defined as easily as the classical dance styles of India. It is also not codified in a detailed manner, as are the classical styles. Contemporary can also be termed as Modern Indian Dance or a Creative / Innovative sort of dance

Uday Shankar, who was born in the early years of the 20th century, is widely accepted as the Father of Modern Dance in India. This great dancer had a very wide vision, and he appreciated the wonderful variety and scope of expression afforded by the different classical and folk dances extant in the country. He incorporated different dance styles, such as Bharatanatyam and Kathakali into his choreographic productions.

Often martial arts such as Kalaraipayattu of Kerala and Chhau of eastern India are incorporated into dance choreography, lending greater vigour and variety to the artistic expression.

Choreographers may use contemporary dance as a medium to depict their themes like environment, youth and women’s issues and other modern themes which are not a part of their classical repertoire whereas some choreographers have chosen to explore the primary impulses of the human body; They may also have used the lexicon of classical dance Hastas (hand gestures) to interpret lyrics in a western language or dance on western music; some others are incorporating multi-media techniques and elaborate stagecraft to convey their message. Collaborative efforts like dance and puppetry or dance and fine art also leads to innovative choreography. Uday Shankar presented traditional themes in a modern way. He believed there were no limits to dance.

Dance Style: Contemporary Indian Dance
Gurus: Uday Shankar and other gurus who taught at the institution.

Brief history from Uday Shankar to today.

Uday Shankar presented traditional themes in a modern way. And during the 30s and 40s there were only four people in the nation who had a modern approach that is Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore and Uday Shankar. In the first ten years of his dance career he was just working and performing and then he decided to open a school for contemporary dance called Uday Shankar India Culture Centre in Almora, Uttar Pradesh that has its own history. It had the best of studios, they were spacious which he was very particular about, it had dance, drama, music and theory classes and I was in his first batch in 1940. He always stressed on the fact that the students must choreograph. When the school closed we started filming Kalpana. After that I joined IPTA (Indian Peoples Theatre Association). After IPTA and Bombay (I worked as a choreographer for the films as well) I shifted here in 1954 and that is the starting point of my work. I had joined Modern School, where I had worked on dance as a part of education. It was an enriching experience for me and the students. Along with choreographies in school I worked on a number of choreographies outside. We then founded Bhoomika – Creative Dance Centre in 1972 in modern school itself and now it has shifted its studio here in Bharti Artists Colony.

Any change in the contemporary that initially started

Actually contemporary still has to be fully developed. There haven’t been a lot of productions so that it can be compared. As for changes in style is concerned, every chorographer will put in his own style in his productions.

Some teachings of Pt Uday Shankar

He believed there were no limits to dance. He made us believe in the characters we portrayed and judge them with accuracy. He made us believe that we have the power to think and choose.
In any other dance form there is a basic structure of items that are followed and taught but in four years he never taught a single item, he was working on the principle that you can create your own dances.
He taught us how to relate to the environment how to understand the music. He gave us the basic knowledge of dance and he wanted us to create.
About classical dances he told us never to play with the forms, must learn them as it is, but when you create term the innovation as yours.

You ran away from home at age of 14 to learn dance had you always wanted to be a dancer.

I had no family background in dance, no one was involved, I had never watched any performances, I was just getting too fed up with the education and I was also misunderstood in my family. I had heard about the school from some friends and the atmosphere was as such that I decided to run away. Initially I was not getting admission as I was a minor and did not have a guardian, but one of my maternal uncles agreed to help me. I just feel it was my destiny.

Audiences and acceptance of contemporary in the earlier days

Bombay had a huge audience for contemporary dance the time I was there. Even in the north I remember people would rush and buy tickets to watch a performance and it was always houseful. Audiences have always been very responsive. However there were meetings and seminars held for classical dance forms so that artists from all over the country meet, such meetings were never held for contemporary.

How important is it to mix education with dance. Tell us your experiences.

It is very important as it sensitizes children who are under the influence of all the wrong things shown on TV and films and also develops their personality. I feel there is a lot of potential in the young children, they are so involved and prepared to do anything. I never imposed a technique on them but a technique out of them. The experiences were very enriching, our work was very production oriented as we choreographed for house functions and the items are usually 10 to 15 minutes long.

My productions – Conference which was a protest ballet about our indifference to children; Antar Chhaya was another protest ballet which portrayed our lost directions; Kamayani was inspired by Jai Shankar Prasad’s famous poem; Prarthana was an attempt to give form to Tagore’s poem ‘Where the mind is without fear’. I also did a novel, which was a slave’s revolt in the Roman Empire, which I performed for the children. The students and I together did very wonderful productions, we also performed the Mahabharata on the golden jubilee of modern school and the papers wrote about it as a professional production.
These days also schools are making an effort to involve dance in their curriculum but they employ Kathak or Bharatanatyam dancers, which just doesn’t work with the children. They don’t need training in technique. They can always acquire that individually. They need to be creatively involved in productions.

As you look back upon your career how do u feel.

It has been satisfying, working with children, initially I felt funny that I left the glamour of Bombay to come to Delhi and join a school but I did whatever I felt I would be happy with. Someone had come to me to choreograph for a fashion show I immediately refused; money is not all that I want. Satisfaction is more important.

Shri Narendra Sharma is the founder director of Bhoomika and at 80, is still involved actively in their latest productions. He made dance an integral part of education in Modern school, Barakahmba Road for thirty years. He created the original version of Bhartiya Kala Kendra’s Ram Lila in 1957. He was also the Chief Choreographer of the inaugural ceremony of Asian Games in 1982.

Bhoomika – Creative Dance Centre
53 Bharati Artists Colony,
Vikas Marg, Delhi 110092
Phone: (011) 22542716
Email: narenbhoomi@w3c.com
Website: www.bhoomikadance.org