Indian culture dances onto Rock

Tanusree Shankar Dance Co. will perform in St. John’s next week

Published on March 19, 2011
Members of Tanusree Shankar Dance Company perform a dance piece choreographed by troupe founder Tanusree Shankar. Shankar is known for fusing traditional Indian dances with western ballet expressions. — Submitted photo

The beauty of Indian classical dance mixed with the grace of modern ballet expressions and a pinch of glitzy Bollywood — dance fusion has never been more interesting.

Top Indian dance troupe Tanusree Shankar Dance Co. will perform in St. John’s next week as part of a country-wide tour celebrating The Year of India in Canada. The performance is also co-ordinated with the province’s Multiculturalism Week, March 20-27.

After an opening performance by local dance group Bollywood Jig, the 12 dancers of Tanusree Shankar Dance Co. will perform a series of short pieces, including “Chirantan” (“Eternal”), based on poetry and music of Rabindranth Tagore, as well as “Uddharan,” (“Upliftment of the Soul”). The pieces were created by troupe founder and artistic director Tanusree Shankar.

Shankar, who became known in India during the ’70s and ’80s as the lead dancer in the Ananda Shankar Centre for Performing Arts, said the piece is based on the technique of new dance created by her late father-in-law Aday Shankar, seen as the pioneer of modern Indian dance.

“It’s a very different kind of technique and different kind of a style that is not purely classical, but has its own look, which is very Indian in original spirit,” Shankar explained to The Telegram in a phone interview from Houston, where the troupe is currently performing.

The ballet aspect of the dance isn’t in the western sense of ballet, but more in the presentation of the concept, Shankar said.

“Uddharan” is described as a piece that follows the journey of the human soul to cultivate virtues and overcome vices, and is based on Hindu scripture.

“The mother part of the Creator, She has created the world so beautifully, and she has given all the values to the children of the world; certain truths: religion, love, and peace. These are the values that she puts into the people and she sends them on the journey of life,” Shankar said.

“There are these negative forces which are also there — we survive in a world of good and bad, and the vices of greed and of lust sort of (counteract) the values. When we are not in control of ourselves, it creates turmoil.

“You can uplift your soul yourself — nobody can do it for you.”

Patricia Dold of MUN’s department of religious studies is the university’s representative on the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, which was instrumental in brining the dance company to St. John’s. The use of music and dance in Indian religious traditions, particularly Hindu ones, is common, she said.

“Dance is a great metaphor for divine grace, and it’s the sort of thing that very frequently comes across in (the) traditions,” she said.

“‘Uddharan” is very much Tanusree Shankar’s interpretation of Hindu scripture. Not that it would be at odds with it, but she seems to be putting her own touch on things.

“One of the things that appeals to be about this group coming is that it was established and run by a woman. Kudos to her because she seems to be having great success and they are a top-notch company that’s performed in all the prime venues on the States; Carnegie Hall and venues of that calibre. It looks like it will be a pretty impressive show.”

Music for the “Uddharan” is also a fusion of eastern and western styles, composed in part by Shankar’s late husband, Ananda Shankar.

The music adds to the piece’s wide appeal, Shankar said.

“I think it’s a very universal kind of feeling and emotion that we all have, in every country. It’s expressed in different ways, but basically it’s all the same,” she said.

“It’s all musical, no words are involved in it. It’s only the dance; the body language which will be presented, and I’m sure people will be able to relate to that.”

Presented by the High Commission of India and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Tanusree Shankar Dance Company, with opening act Bollywood Jig, performs at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre Wednesday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20, $10 for students and seniors and are available at the Arts and Culture Centre box office or by calling 729-3900.

The full calendar for Year of India events is available online at