Uday Shankar’s debut performance

13 Sep 1923
Event location: 

Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD


In 1922, the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova returned to London from her tour of East Asia and India. This trip had inspired her to stage a ballet on Indian themes. She had decided on three miniature ballets, ‘Ajanta Frescoes’, ‘A Hindu Wedding’ and ‘Krishna and Radha’. Her husband, Victor Dandre, who was also the manager of her dance troupe, commissioned the Indian musician, Comolata Banerji, the daughter of Sir Albion and Lady Banerji, to write the score for ‘Krishna and Radha ‘and ‘A Hindu Wedding’.

Through the wife of Mr N. C. Sen, who was the India Office official responsible for education and informally charged with looking after the Indian community in London, Pavlova was introduced to Uday Shankar. After auditioning for her she immediately asked him to choreograph the two ballets for her, and to partner her in the ‘Krishna and Radha’ ballet. Shankar’s choreography drew from his experiences of life in Rajasthan. The costumes and décor were based on miniatures in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the costumes were designed with fabrics Pavlova had bought during her visit to India.

Pavlova was scheduled to give a season of performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, from 10 September 1923. The season opened with Pavlova offering six new ballets over he season: ‘Ajanta Frescoes’, ‘A Polish Wedding’, ‘Dionysus’, ‘Oriental Impressions’, ‘Russian Folk Lore’ and ‘La Fille Mal Gardee’. On the first three nights, ‘Ajanta Frescoes’ was presented, ‘Oriental Impressions’, which included Shankar’s choreography, followed on 13 September. These set pieces received enthusiastic notices. The Times praised the ‘imaginative atmosphere’ of ‘Krishna and Radha’. In the newspaper reviews of the performances, Uday Shankar is not mentioned; even in the publicity and souvenir materials, he is merely acknowledged as the person who ‘arranged’ the dances. While Shankar choreographed ‘A Hindu Wedding’ and ‘Radha Krishna’, he performed in the latter opposite Pavlova. The music was played by a Western orchestra with Banerji’s orchestrations emulating Indian melodies and rhythms.

Following the success of the Covent Garden season, Shankar joined Pavlova on her American tour which opened at the Manhattan Opera House on 9 October 1923. 

People involved: 

Anna Pavlova, Uday Shankar.

Secondary works: 

Banerji, Projesh, Uday Shankar and his Art (Delhi: B. R. Publications, 1982)

Khokar, Mohan, His Dance, His Life: a Portrait of Uday Shankar (New Delhi: Himalayan Books, 1983)