The Modern or Contemporary Dance in India has a relatively short history, being evolved only in the 20th century as a creative amalgamation of the classical and folk dances of India. This dance form is not codified in a detailed manner as the classical dance forms. The Modern Dance in India owes its origin to the ballets produced by Uday Shankar (1900-1977) who travelled widely between 1929 and 1938 and introduced audiences in the West to the Indian dance and music through the performances of his troupe, the ‘Hindu Dancers’. He was chosen by the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova to be her partner in the ballet ‘Radha and Krishna’ (1923). He soon choreographed another Indian ballet ‘A Hindu Wedding’. Uday Shankar was a visionary who appreciated the wonderful variety and scope of expression afforded by different classical and folk dances existing in this country. He presented the composition ‘Tandava Nritya’ at the Theatre Champs-Elysées in Paris in 1931. Some of Uday Shankar’s famous ballets include, ‘Shiva-Parvati’, ‘Rhythm of Life’ (1938) and ‘Labour and Machinery’ (1939). He also made a path-breaking film, ‘Kalpana’ on the theme of dance. He is considered as the ‘Father of Modern Dance in India’.
Shanti Bardhan, a junior colleague of Uday Shankar, carried this tradition forward and produced some of the most imaginative dance-dramas of the 20th century, including ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Panchatantra’. He founded the ‘Little Ballet Troupe’ in Andheri, Mumbai in 1952.
The modern theatre tradition was carried forward by other disciples of Uday Shankar like Narendra Sharma and Sachin Shankar. Uday Shankar’s daughter Mamata Shankar is keeping his unique style of ballet alive through her ballet troupe. She focuses on contemporary issues in her ballets.
Others who shaped the modern dance through experimentation involving classical and folk styles include Menaka, Ram Gopal and Mrinalini Sarabhai. Today, many other schools of modern dance have emerged in India. In the ‘Tagore School of Dance’, ballets are choreographed in a new style by the fusion of elements from many classical dances. Some of the well known dance-ballets of this school are the ‘Chandalika’, ‘Natir Puja’, ‘Tasher Desh’ and ‘Chitrangada’.
Mrilani Sarabai’s ballets like ‘Manushaya’, ‘Rig-Veda’ and ‘MatsyaKanya’ are regarded as one of the finest products of experimentation in the Indian dance. Her daughter Mallika Sarabhai, who is a leading danseuse and choreographer, produced several creative and powerful dance-ballets like ‘Draupadi’, ‘Shakti – The Power of Woman’ and ‘Sita’s Daughters’ on the issues of concern to modern Indian women.
More recently, Dr Manjushree Chaki-Sarkar created a dance expression which was termed as ‘Nava Nrityam’. She and her daughter Ranjabati Sarkar did extensive research on the dance style and presented a large number of choreographic productions. Another talented dancer, Daksha Seth, has choreographed vibrant productions like ‘In Search of My Tongue’, ‘Yagna’ and ‘Sarpagati’. Ivan Pulinkala is another modern choreographer who believes in the fusion of classical Indian themes with modern western dance. He has choreographed productions like ‘Evita’, ‘Tommy’, ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Grease’.
Important contemporary modern dancers include Ananda Shankar Jayant, Astad Deboo, Atul Kumar, Mahesh Mahbubani, Nandini Kaul, Shefali Lahoti, Naren Suresh Lahot, Aditi Mangaldas, Bharat Sharma, Geeta Chandran, Kishore Sharma, Pooja Sharma, Rama Vaidyanathan, Tanusree Shankar, Aparna Kolar, Geetha Ballal, Mayuri Upadhya, Anita Ratnam, Padmini Chettur, Arkadev Bhattacharya, Soma Dutta, Priyadarshini Ghosh and others. The noteworthy choreographers of Bollywood include Prabhu Deva, Vaibhavi Merchant, Shiamak Davar, Saroj Khan, Farah Khan and Ganesh Hegde.