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Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, Prince Among Dancers
Indian folk dance is a very broad term used to describe South Indian dance styles. There are many websites that give information about Indian folk dances and their interpretations.
Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury was one person who achieved a high level of success as an Indian folk dancer. Chowdhury was also an actor, choreographer, author and painter.
Chowdhury was born on February 11, 1930, in Madras, India (now Chennai, India) into a family of Indian royalty. He was the son of Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury, a renowned painter and sculptor, and Charulata Roy Chowdhury.
Chowdhury grew up without siblings, and enjoyed a life of wealth, privilege and servants. While in high school, Chowdhury developed an interest in boxing. This interest continued at Madras Christian College. Prior to graduation, in 1946, Chowdhury became a professional welterwight boxer. Due to substantial injuries from the ring, Chowdhury ended his boxing career.
A Dramatic Career Change
In 1948, Chowdhury made the decision to simultaneously pursue two careers: one career as an actor, and the other career as a professional Indian folk dancer. Chowdhury trained with several gurus, learning the styles of Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Kathak and Manipuri dance. The following year, Chowdhury found and choreographed his own dance company, "Bhaskar & Company." This company enjoyed success travelling throughout India, and Sri Lanka. As a actor, Chowdhury would appear in over thirty films.
Chowdhury's dance performances and acting career caught the attention of Max Liebman, a producer, director and composer. He offered Chowdhury a television role, and suggested that Chowdhury should come to the United States to expand his career. The Indian newspapers published that Chowdhury had received a contract to appear in a televised musical production.
Bhaskar, as he would now be more often named, took the offer. In his unpublished autobiography, Bhaskar wrote that he said goodby to his parents in the South Indian way. "I garlanded [sic] my mother and father and touched their feet and asked for their blessings."
New Horizons: From India to the United States, 1955-
In the United States, Bhaskar went to work immediately on the television production, The Adventures of Marco Polo directed by Max Liebman (1956). Bhaskar appeared as the whirling dervish. Other acting parts followed over the years: a part in Christine starring Maureen O'Hara on Broadway, and Creation of Woman, Ishmael Merchant's first movie. He starred in the cult horror classic I Drink Your Blood (1970).
South Asian dance would continue to be the central focus for Bhaskar. Bhaskar also studied modern dance techniques, with Jean Erdman at Bard College, the lead dancer of the Martha Graham Dance Company.
In 1956, complementing Indian traditional dance with modern dance techniques, Bhaskar formed "Bhaskar - Dances of India," with American dancers. This company as with his former company "Bhaskar & Company" was successful as a traveling troupe that performed throughout the United States and abroad.
As a premier performer, Bhaskar danced solo and also with other performers. Many of these dancers, he trained. Others were experts in South Indian dance techniques. One particular dancer, Shala Mattingly, already had a successful dance career. Bhaskar invited her to form a professional partnership, a partnership that lasted for ten years (1965 - 1975). Mattingly eventually decided to pursue other career options and remained a life-long friend of Bhaskar.
Bhaskar also continued to work in television, movies, and modeling. This would end abruptly. On October 25, 1977, the unthinkable happened.
Bhaskar and his company had been scheduled to perform on stage at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana. Prior to the company's performance, Bhaskar was discussing the sound and the choreography. Suddenly, the orchestra pit was lowered. Bhaskar was alarmed because the stage was dimly lit. He asked that the pit be raised. A grinding sound ensued. Bhaskar thought that the pit was being raised back up and continued with his arrangements for the performance. Suddenly, he stepped backwards into the abyss and fell twenty-six feet.
The results from the accident were devastating. Bhaskar's limbs were broken, as well as his spine, in four places. During his hospital stay, one arm had to be broken again so that it would heal properly. Bhaskar would be paralysed from the waist down for the rest of his life. After months of rehabilitation and support of family and friends, Bhaskar found a renewed energy and purpose in life. His partner and manager for thirty years, Mark LaRoche, inspired Bhaskar to take up painting.
Renewed Energy and Life
Bhaskar's paintings reflected his Indian culture. His paintings were exhibited and some were purchased for private collections. A portion of the sales were donated to charities to help other disabled people. Bhashar, always multi-tasking, wrote a series of articles and children books.
In 1997, Bhaskar was a panelist for the Fifth Annual Performing Arts of Asia Festival at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In 2003, at the age of seventy-four, Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury died in New York City.
The Creation of Woman (1961) Bhaskar Dance on YouTube.
The source for the blog were culled from the Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury papers, The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
see also: Indian Dance Srimathi Gina: A Life Devoted to Indian Classical Dance by Katie Daniels.
Selected list of books about the dances of India
- Classical Dances and Costumes of India by Ambrose Kay
- Dances of India by Ragini Devi
- Folk-dances of South India by Hildegard L. Spreen
- Mudras of India. A Comprehensive Guide to the Hand Gestures of Yoga and Indian Dance by Cain Carroll