That Uday Shankar performed here was most surprising of all. In all my past reading and research about Uday Shankar, I had never read a reference to him or his company performing anywhere in the Intermountain West region of the United States. Very little details about Shankar's touring schedules are available, and for a long time I assumed his company only performed in big cities like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles because those were the only ones briefly mentioned.
General details of Uday Shankar's tours are outlined in the writings of Mohan Khokar and Ruth Abrahams. Nearly all of the performances in the U.S. by Shankar's company were sponsored by the renowned impresario Sol Hurok who first saw the group perform in Paris. Uday Shankar's first company (comprised of family, friends, and Simkie) first toured the U.S. in 1932-33 and 1933-34. Uday Shankar's second company (with new choreography and dancer additions Zohra Segal and Madhavan) performed in the U.S. in 1936-37 and 1937-38. After a return to India, the opening and closing of the Almora Center, and the release of the film Kalpana with little commercial success, Shankar and his third company (entirely revised with dancer addition Amala Shankar) returned to the U.S. in 1949 for a 10 week tour and again in 1951-52. The company's last performances in the United States took place in 1968.
Ruth Abrahams' dissertation on Uday Shankar is the only source I've found that gives specific details about Shankar's tours. A 1933 touring schedule on page 147 reveals that beyond the expected big cities, the tour included stops in places like Cleveland, Ohio; Madison, Wisconsin; Springfield, Missouri; Birmingham, Alabama; Waco, Texas; Tuscon, Arizona; and cities along the coastal pacific northwest and California. Abrahams notes, "The magnitude of the tour effort is remarkable to consider when one reflects on the circumstances of the times, the lack of convenient transportation, and the sheer bulk of personnel and baggage. Amenities, both professional and personal, were schizophrenic in effect—sometimes luxurious, but more often minimal, and the company was hard put upon to locate decent, affordable restaurants and housing. Usually, they just ate and slept on trains between concert dates." I wonder if the company encountered difficulties in their Deep South performance in Birmingham. When Indrani Rehman and her troupe performed in Louisiana almost three decades later in 1961, the troupe was refused admission to two restaurants due to racial segregation .
|Source: Utah Daily Chronicle |
For a visit to Utah, the performances in Salt Lake City are expected. The greater Salt Lake City area has always been one of the few large metropolitan areas in the Intermountain West and was once known as the "crossroads of the west." But a performance in the small college town Cedar City 250 miles away in southern Utah is hard to fathom! Below are a few photographs I found of the Cedar City performance at the digital archives of the College of Southern Utah (now Southern Utah University), but no details are listed other than the ID of the "Shankar Ballet." I don't recognize any of the dancers, and I haven't the slightest idea who the guests are. Anyone recognize them?
Right: Indian guests with College of Southern Utah President Braithwaite
A review by Tom Mathews described the performance in more earnest, appreciative terms."Those bold enough to attend were rewarded richly for their temerity. For those who were frightened by the words "Hindu Ballet," I give my sympathy. They made the most serious mistake of the season in their show-going judgment. Without knowing the least thing about such an admittedly esoteric subject as Hindu dancing, I sat in a goggle at the incredible grace and gentleness of maestro Shankar. He didn't move; he flowed....Shankar's wife, Amala...never stopping, always melting, she dipped and swooped like a leaf falling in still air..." . And let's not forget that Uday Shankar was a very handsome man who was referred to in an advertisement as "ardently admired by repressed women throughout the world," or, in the frank words of Mohan Khokar, as one who "turned American women on, and they said so uninhibitedly."
Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn in Utah
So guess who else performed many times in Utah? Early modern dance pioneers Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn! This is not as surprising as Uday Shankar given that St. Denis and Shawn were Americans who toured extensively all over the country, and Salt Lake City had some nice theaters at that time. Researching their travel schedules is refreshingly easy thanks to a 1962 publication by Christena Schlundt that documents their performances. However, the Utah Digital Newspapers website fills in some details not available from Schlundt's book including a couple missing performances.
|Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 1911|
A review of one of the 1926 performances had a harsher orientalist tone than the Uday Shankar reviews above which were written a generation later: "The Orient, with all its savage, grotesque abandonment, was vividly presented in a series of dances by the Denishawn artist Monday evening." Most amusing of all was the description of Ted Shawn's "superb rendition of The Cosmic Dance of Siva" . I can think of a host of adjectives other than "superb" to describe that one, though commenting on the Denishawn dance style and their being products of the time period is beyond the scope of this post.
|Source: Goodwin's Weekly, 1911|
Dance in Utah
I was quite fascinated to learn that Ruth Emma Hull, the mother of Ruth St. Denis, was raised in the "burned-over district" area of western New York which was nicknamed as such due to the intense, uniquely-American Christian religious revivals and new religions (including the Mormons) that swept over the area like a forest fire. Hull became a Methodist and she and her husband moved to New Jersey where daughter Ruth Dennis (stage name Ruth St. Denis) was later born, but Hull could have easily become a Mormon and moved to Utah! Imagine how differently dance history might have turned out...
What makes this post so exciting is that it leads to the identification of more places that a dance performance of Uday Shankar or Ruth St. Denis might have been recorded or photographed and preserved in an archive that has gone or is going digital. What treasures out there might await!
But the most exciting part of all was learning of the performance at the University of Utah which is a hallowed place for me as it has served as a source/conduit for much of my blog research! Having just last weekend attended an event at a performance hall right next to Kingsbury Hall, it is so exciting to think that the spaces I walked on may have once been the same spots Uday Shankar once stepped. If only Shankar's company would have performed here when Simkie was a member of the troupe. Now that would be truly inspiring!
Abrahams, Ruth. The Life and Art of Uday Shankar. PhD Dissertation.
Khokar, Mohan. His Dance, His Life: A Portrait of Uday Shankar.
Schlundt, Christena. The Professional Appearances of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn: A Chronology and an Index of Dances 1906-1932.
Articles at Utah Digital Newspapers:
- "Address is Given by Ruth St. Denis: Famous Orpheum Dancer Speaks to Class in Dramatic Art at University of Utah." Salt Lake Tribune. September 23, 1916.
- "Attractions of the Week in Theaters of Salt Lake." Salt Lake Tribune. March 26, 1911.
- "Attractions of the Week in Theaters of Salt Lake." Salt Lake Tribune. March 19, 1911.
- "Box-Office Ticket Sale Near for Shankar Hindu Ballet." Salt Lake Telegram. January 25, 1952.
- "Dances Without Wiggling Her Feet." Ogden Standard. December 27, 1913.
- "Denishawn Dancers Feature Bizarre Oriental Numbers." Salt Lake Telegram. December 28, 1926.
- "Denishawns Coming to the Lyric Theatre." Logan Republican. March 2, 1920.
- "Graceful Dancers at Pantages This Week." Salt Lake Herald. April 17, 1918.
- "Granite High Pupils to Do Denis Dances." Salt Lake Tribune. March 22, 1918.
- "Happenings in Society." Salt Lake Tribune. May 18, 1919.
- "Hindu Artists Will Display Dancing Talent." Iron City Record. September 29, 1962.
- "Hindu Dance Troupe Slated for Kingsbury Performance." Utah Daily Chronicle. October 22, 1962.
- "Incredible Grace of Hindu Dancers Exciting Experience for Audience." Salt Lake Telegram. January 31, 1952.
- "Indian Dancer Hits Race Curb in South." New York Times. November 21, 1961. [accessed via ProQuest Historical Newspapers]
- "Noted Dancer with Her Hostesses." Salt Lake Telegram. August 29, 1939.
- "Ruth St. Denis Dashes from Party to Party During Brief Visit Here." Salt Lake Telegram. August 29, 1939.
- "Salt Lake Girls Will Interpret Dances of Orient: 25 Taught to Express Emotions by Rhythm." Salt Lake Herald. March 17, 1918.
- "The Denishawn Dancers to Appear in Salt Lake." Salt Lake Telegram. December 12, 1926.