The iconic contemporary dancer Uday Shankar came into his destined vocation almost fortuitously. As a fresh youth of 21, he had gone to London to join William Rothenstein (1872-1945) to learn painting, when the great British master advised him to look at traditional Indian paintings first, at the British museum. This was to let him gain an Indian insight, since his exposure to his country’s culture was limited, till then, to the lakes and palaces of his birth-town Udaipur, and temples and river banks of Banaras, his maternal uncle’s place. Soon, he was spotted – for his handsome physique and visage -- by the legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova who offered him a partnership in a couple of dances with her at Covent Garden. When, later, Shankar expressed keenness to join her troupe for a permanent career in ballet, Pavlova firmly turned his mind back to his own country and urged him to study the heritage of Ajanta and Ellora in the first place. Shankar did so, opened his own dance group to conquer the world and, in a nutshell, a star was born. To him, till the very end, dance remained a philosophy and a way of life.
After witnessing his public performances a few times in Patna, Kolkata and Jamshedpur in that order, it was fascinating for this critic to hear him speak out his love of nature in a rare private reception in the Steel City. After a young maiden’s dance to felicitate him -- to the tune of Tagore’s famous song: Remove all shackles, O Nataraj, with the rhythms of your dance…, done on a specially flower bedecked floor -- he quietly observed, “Rather than see her perform, I was moved to see how the breeze was stirring the flower petals to and fro; that was the real dance to me…”
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