The first Indian dancers to be seen in Europe were the Bayadères (Indian temple dancers), who appeared at the Adelphi Theatre, London in 1838. Audiences were familiar with temple dancers in ballet and Marie Taglioni had appeared in a ballet entitled Le Dieu et la Bayadère (God and the Temple Dancer) earlier in the decade. However this was the first time that real Bayadères had appeared in London. Audiences were familiar with temple dancers in ballet and Marie Taglioni had appeared in a ballet entitled Le Dieu et la Bayadère (God and the Temple Dancer) earlier in the decade. However this was the first time that real Bayadères had appeared in London.
Anna Pavlova and Uday Shankar, black and white photograph, early 20th century
The famous ballerina Anna Pavlova visited India in 1922. Seeing Indian dances and paintings for the first time, she was inspired to produce a work with an Indian theme. To ensure authenticity, she wanted to learn from a dancer in the Indian tradition. She was introduced to a young painting student who had studied at the Royal College of Art, Uday Shankar. Having seen him dance, Pavlova asked him to choreograph and appear in two of the sections which would make up the ballet. Together they created Oriental Impressions, which was premiered at Covent Garden in 1923. This was a mixture of Eastern and Western traditions - an Indian composer wrote a score for a Western orchestra, and Shankar adapted his Indian style to suit Pavlova's company. The costumes were based on artefacts in the V&A Museum and made out of fabrics that Pavlova had brought back from India.
Pavlova and Shankar, Tribe Brothers (printer), Princes Theatre London, England, early 20th century
In 1923 Anna Pavlova invited Uday Shankar, a young dancer from Udaipur in Rajasthan, to collaborate and appear with her in the ballet, Radha Krishna. They had met when Pavlova toured India in 1923. Uday Shankar had had no formal training in classical Indian dance but, encouraged by the Maharaja of Jhalawar (to whom his father was secretary), he had developed a great knowledge of Indian art. It was Uday Shankar who really introduced Indian dance to the West. After touring extensively across India learning the folk dances and traditions of classical dance, he returned to Paris in 1931. There, he began to choreograph his modern Indian dance, which drew inspiration from the dance traditions of India. His work influenced many modern dance choreographers of this period, including Martha Graham and Ruth St Denis. Shankar toured extensively across Europe and visited London on many occasions.
Journal of Indian Arts, printed booklet with soft covers, 1934
Roopa Lekha is the Quarterly Journal of the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society. It printed illustrated articles on the history of Indian Arts as well as reporting on new developments. This edition from 1934 is an Uday Shankar 'special', tracing the dancer's huge success in bringing Indian dance to a Western public. You can read a selection of the favourable press reviews as well as detailed and well illustrated descriptions of the work of Shankar and his company.
The All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society was founded in 1928 to promote Indian culture. It was originally formed to judge the entries in an exhibition of Indian art. When India House was constructed in London (to house the Indian High Commission), the authorities planned to decorate its walls with works by English artists, when they were persuaded it would be more appropriate to use Indian artists. The exhibition was held to determine who should have the honour of painting the murals.
Mrinalini Sarabhai. black and white photograph, mid 20th century
Mrinalini Sarabhai was an internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer from Madras who, like Uday Shankar before her, helped popularise classical Indian dance in Britain. She trained in Bharata-natya and Kathkali and by her early 20s had toured India, Europe and America with her company. Her first London appearance was in 1949 at St Martin's Theatre in London's West End. Reviewers commended not just the technical proficiency of the company, but the fact that they presented the dances in their classical form without any Westernising influence.
That same year Mrinalini Sarabhai founded the Darpana Academy of the Performing Arts in Ahmedabad in north west India. Darpana was the first school to teach south Indian dance in the region, and also taught drama, music and puppetry. Her daughter Mallika is also a dancer and appeared in Peter Brook's film The Mahabharata. She now runs the school, and their students come from all over India.