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MANJUSHREE CHAKI SARKAR (1934-1999)


Manjushree Chaki Sarkar was a dancer and choreographer. She invented the dance form called Navanritya. Born Manjushree Chaki in Pabna, now in Bangladesh, she suffered the trauma of Partition when her family had to relocate to Kolkata in 1947. She was at Presidency College from 1951 to 1953 and this was the turning point in her life. She realised that she wanted to dance, and her technical training was now lit form within by a burning desire to express her self through the medium.

In 1958 she got married and spent some years in Africa where her daughter Ranjabati (q.v.) was born. She started a school of dance there. In the States she lived for a time in New York. There she was exposed to new developments in modern dance pioneered by Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. Manjushree used to attend modern dance classes wearing leotards under her sari. She once again founded her own school of dance where she began developing the form that was to become Navanritya, and also got her doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University. Navanrityam techniques draw on the major classical traditions of India along with folk forms such as chhau, thang-ta and the Kandyan form of Sri Lanka.

In order to develop her dance further, she returned to Kolkata in 1979. With her daughter Ranjabati Sarkar and her troupe, now called Dancers’ Guild, she did a great deal of research and codification of the dance style and presented a large number of choreographic productions. A number of the former members of Dancers’ Guild have gone on to form their own troupes. Works include Tomari Matir Kanya, a version of Tagore’s Chandalika, Aranya Amrita, based on legends of the Bishnois, Krouncho Katha, Parama Prakriti, and She Said, Ranjabati’s last unfinished work.

Manjushree was awarded the Shiromani Puraskar, the Uday Shankar Puraskar, and the Sangeet Natak Academy award in 1994. Her death robbed Kolkata of a colourful personality and modern dance of one of its most inventive proponents. Dancers’ Guild continues to function under Jonaki Sarkar. It has trained over five hundred students.
 
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