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Tanusree Shankar at Toronto - Shipra Chaudhury


Her salt and pepper hair style was a perfect match to her pearl-drop earrings and raw silk salwar suit, just as her grace and glamour that oozed when she performed on stage.

Be it at a dance recital or at the practice for the stage show, at a group gathering or speaking one-on-one at an interview, she still continues to enthrall her audience worldwide. 

Meet Tanusree Shankar, wife of the late Ananda Shankar and daughter-in-law of Uday Shankar, who was recently in Toronto this July to perform and train participants for the opening of NABC 2013. Having choreographed for NABC 2009 in San Francisco, she found all performers smart and sedulous. “As a dancer, no matter wherever I go and whatever workshop I facilitate, we all speak the same universal language. The only difference is the style of dancing. My style is different and I try to teach my style to a different body which is used to a different technique,” said she. Prior to this, in 2011, her troupe had performed in 9 different cities in Canada.

Being the leading danseuse and dancer of the 1970 and 1980’s, Shankar found a sea of changes in the dancing scenario. Unlike earlier, when male or female dancers would learn dancing for a couple of years and then forget about it, now young adults are taking it seriously and as a recognizable profession and to her, this is a good sign. Having said that, she also felt that these dancers should give the profession its due dignity and raise the bars of expectation. That means to learn the art of dance for a good 10-12 years and not become impatient and just do a crash course! “Foundation is very important, and if you lack in that, you will never be able to sustain yourself,” she admitted smilingly.


To keep with the chosen theme of Bengal Renaissance at the NABC 2013, Shankar had choreographed dances that celebrated the cultural liberation through the reverberating drum beats and musical dance moves that not only spoke of liberation at the national level, but also at the individual level. Said she, “The Shankar Gharana is all about Indian roots and tradition. When my father-in-law, Pandit Uday Shankar introduced the ballet form of dance in the 1930’s, he was actually narrating a mythological story to an international audience. What I have done is taken this form a step ahead and called it the ‘New Dance,’ which is the amalgamation of Indian spirit, modern presentation, and universal appeal. Hence this form is alluring to all audiences, be it in India, Japan, Toronto or America.” Shankar has also been influenced by the folk and regional dance forms of India. She added, “I am fortunate to have learnt Kathakali, Manipuri and Bharat Natyam from excellent gurus who have made my classical base very strong. So when I create dance, it is a deviation from these classical forms, and more a combination to bring in this essence of ‘Indian-ness’ in a classical phrase. When you see us perform, you can identify our dance as ‘Indian’ and not any typical classical form.” This was truly represented by all her various presentations at the opening show. In fact the choreographic vision transported us to the golden age of Bengal, and made us realize that the revolution of the past century has not lost its relevance yet!

Shankar has evolved her own modern idiom by marrying the grace and beauty of traditional Indian dances with the soul of modern western ballet expressions. “As a creative artist, you cannot stagnate at one point, but be innovative,” she admitted. In Paris, her choreographed Indo-French Ballet Padmavati (Paris Opera) with international artistes together with 26 dancers from her troupe in 2008 brought her vast fame and later invitation to perform at the opening of the Spoleto Festival in Italy.

In May 2012, she had accompanied Amala Shankar, her ma-in-law and Mamata Shankar, sister-in-law to the Cannes. She gleamed out, narrating her experience at the Cannes.  “It was a great experience to walk on the red carpet with ma-in-law, the 93 years old Amala Shankar, who was the heroine of the 1948 classic film Kalpana, written and directed by her husband, the world famous Pundit Uday Shankar.  It was a story that revolved around a young dancer’s dream of setting up an academy. The film was also the first to feature a dancer as the lead actor and the fantasy ballet went on to become a landmark film. Like many old films, Kalpana, despite being acknowledged as a classic, was left to rot. Its restoration was done by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation (WCF) to be re-screened in 2013 Cannes.” Continued Tanusree, “Kalpana stands out as an extraordinary achievement, a unique celebration of the dance form. The film breaks new ground from the existing traditions of Indian cinema, discarding all existing formula. It was ma’s moment of glory. The film got a standing ovation!”

Having lost her husband, Ananda Shankar, the world famous composer in 1999, Tanusree realized that life should go on. Continued she, “Uttaran was my first production and experimental work after Ananda passed away, where I used some of his music. Next was Chirantan, based on Tagore’s poems from Gitanjali and recited by Mr. Amitabh Bachchan.”  She tried to give it a different look, ‘out of the Tagore box production’ as she says, with music composed by Debojyoti Misra.

Next was The Child- the only English 10 verse poem written by Tagore, and recited by Victor Banerjee. Shankar has also choreographed fashion shows in her earlier years, but her focus was mainly to perform during the breaks in between ramp walks. She has also acted in many films and TV serials. To name a few are Mira Nair’s The Namesake & The Waiting City, in 2006, her film Hemanter Pakhi received the National Award for the Best Regional Film. Besides, she even acted with the famous Uttam Kumar in Dui Prithibi. But she innocently admits that stage has always been her first love! Her daughter, Sreenanda, has taken up dancing and she joins her mom’s group for any performances and travels between Bombay and the US.

Any message for our Torontonian dance lovers as a dance guru? Smilingly she concluded, “If you see a talented person around, do not discourage him or her but rather give them a break and let them try. In every field there is struggle, and until you struggle, you never know what the outcome may be. ”

About Shipra:

My name is Shipra Chaudhury.  Born and raised in Kolkata, I began my professional career by graduating with masters from Jadavpur University, which led me to numerous teaching opportunities. Soon I moved to Dubai, to start my freelancing career for Gulf News, one of the leading newspaper in the Gulf. In 2001, I moved to Toronto with my family and have made this lovely city my home!

Besides teaching in the private sector, I have continued to be a freelancing journalist, writing for community newspapers and magazines here.

I love to read in my free time as that broadens my horizon. Dancing is also my hobby as I love to be fit and healthy. Another hobby that I enjoy pursuing is helps me to be one with Mother Nature.



#1 Nandita 2013-10-08 20:53
Khoob sundor laglo fact anek kichhu janlam about her jeta aage jantam na..thanks for a beautiful write up..

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