MILESTONE The Ananda Shankar Centre for Performing Arts in Kolkata, which has completed 25 years, is taking forward the composer’s dream. NITA VIDYARTHI

When composer Ananda Shankar returned to Kolkata from the U.S. in the late 1960s, he brought back with him ideas on how to blend the contemporary with the traditional. Armed with this knowledge and the legacy of his illustrious parents, Uday and Amala Shankar, Ananda opened a dance school called Payel in 1986, with his dancer wife Tanusree.

The New Age dance technique perfected by his legendary father, was to be taught in this school, which, in 1987, was renamed Ananda Shankar Centre for Performing Arts and registered as a non-profit organisation. The Centre was to be no ordinary dance school but a modern gurukul where love and affection were generously showered on the trainees as was knowledge.

As the Centre celebrated its 25{+t}{+h}anniversary, the genius of its founder Ananda Shankar once again came to the fore. His dream was to establish a place of learning where fresh talent from various performing arts was discovered and provided opportunities to showcase their skill.

Indian in spirit

Today, the institution, recognised by The Ministry of Culture, Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, imparts training in the Shankar Technique of New Dance pioneered by Uday Shankar that is based on the brilliant musical scores of Ananda. The technique does not dismiss the classical dance. It deviates from the traditional form, but is Indian in origin and spirit while modern in presentation.

The Centre, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a programme titled ‘Down Memory Lane,’ saw the coming together of nearly 150 students, both old and new, to pay tribute to the musical genius of Ananda Shankar. In fact, it was a homecoming of sorts for many, who had not danced for 12 years or more.

Today, the centre, which is run by Tanusree, has a dedicated and trained faculty and provides an avenue for those who want to pursue dance and choreography as careers.

A few senior students spoke of their days at the Centre with joy. They fondly remembered how etiquette was taught, birthdays were celebrated while on tours, homesickness was handled with love, personal problems were tackled with sensitivity and how Ananda, Tanusree and the teachers would accompany the students to watch a movie.

At the same time, discipline was enforced and a lot of emphasis was laid on proper grooming and punctuality. Saraswati Puja was an important event and every year, Ananda would take personal care to ensure everything went smoothly. Sadly, his untimely death did leave a void. But Tanusree ensured the things continued as before and under her watchful eye, the centre is run with clockwork precision.

The centre offers three-year courses for different age groups -- Junior, transition and senior to advance. Yoga is an integral part of the training as flexibility of both mind and body is vital for a dancer, explains Tanusree. There is a well-equipped library, complete with magazines on dance, and audios and videos. Besides, students are exposed to international techniques through cultural exchange and collaborative programmes with institutions abroad.

Says Tanusree, “The idea of Residencies started in 1996. During one of my visits to the U.S., I met Jaquline Buglisi at the Martha Graham School and invited her to our Centre. Ever since, we have had many renowned artistic directors and choreographers visiting the Centre. The International Scholarship was introduced to boost the quality of students, and it enables a student to be aware of and learn more about the international dance scene.”

Among those who have shared their creative ideas at the Centre are Janet Kaylo, Jaan Freeman, Margaret Jenkins and Vincent Calcalano. Seminars and dance workshops by eminent dancers and choreographers held at frequent intervals are useful for the students.

Landmark creations

Productions such as ‘Padmavati’ in France and Italy, ‘Slipping Glimpses’ in the U.S. and ‘Sphericalinearisation’ in Kolkata with foreign participants, have brought laurels to the Centre. Some landmark creations which, in the past 25 years have created a stir in the dance world, include ‘Nav Yug,’ ‘Atmoday,’ ‘Mrignayani,’ ‘Ganga,’ ‘Temptation Nava Kalpana’ and ‘Chirantan.’

The Centre provides free training to the economically backward and physically challenged, who participate in the institutions’ annual show regularly.

What does Tanusree look for in an aspiratnt? “Well, intelligence, passion for the arts, a positive attitude, and most important, dedication.”

Following in the footsteps of Ananda and Tanusree is their dancer daughter Sreenanda, who is ready to carry forward the legacy of Uday Shankar, Amala Shankar and Ananda Shankar. The smile on Ananda’s face in the large photograph that adorns in the 2,500 sq.ft. dance studio seems to say that his dream has come true!