On the Trail of Ruth St. Denis: India 1926
   
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In 1926 the great American interpretive dancer Ruth St. Denis traveled through India for 5 months as part of an extraordinary performance tour of some 100 cities and towns. Accompanying her was her onstage dancing partner and husband Ted Shawn along with a supporting troupe of dancers, musicians and stagehands. Together St. Denis and Shawn formed the artistic backbone of "Denishawn" and - as the company's figureheads - they steadfastly led this talented troupe of dedicated artistes on a trailblazing tour of India that was remarkable both for its ambition and success. Documented in film and in photographs at the time, the 1926 tour has been detailed further in the writings and diaries of both Ruth St. Denis and Denishawn dancer Jane Sherman.

While in India, Denishawn performed to great acclaim - receiving well-earned plaudits for an aesthetically diverse programme of theatrical dances. From Calcutta to Quetta and from foreign dignitaries and Maharajahs to the common man, popular and critical appreciation for the Denishawn presentations was overwhelming. The Calcutta Statesman referred to the Denishawn performances as “The most artistic entertainment the west has ever offered to the east” while The Times of India in Bombay proclaimed “It is the best thing that has ever been seen in this city”.

 
 


Trailblazing dances


In On the Trail of Ruth St. Denis: India 1926, the camera follows British-Australian dance artist Liz Lea as she follows in the footsteps of this legendary 20th century dancer and attempts to relive the journey of Denishawn through India in the present day.

En route, Lea recreates some of the iconic dances which St. Denis performed at the time - including the sensuous posings of “Radha” (a dance which brought St. Denis great fame when it premiered in New York City in 1906) to the undulating rhythms of “The Incense” (set against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal) to the sinuous bite of “The Cobra”, another of St. Denis’s ‘Eastern’ dances which creatively sought to evoke the spirit, mystery and mysticism of the ‘Orient’ in a theatrical way.

1926-2011: 85 years on

On the 85th anniversary of the famed tour in 2011, this film pays tribute to the outstanding contribution St. Denis and her husband made to the development of early American modern dance and also highlights the renaissance in Indian dance which, arguably, took place in India following their historic journey there in 1926. Exploring this fascinating past in juxtaposition with the vibrant reality of India today, the film is both a cultural document of a time gone by as well as a contemporary road trip with the extraordinary dance artist and devoted St. Denis aficionado Liz Lea. Cities and sites visited in the making of the film include the congested and colorful streets of New Delhi, the Gateway to India in Mumbai, the Grand Hotel in Kolkuta, the British Residency in Lucknow, the clothing markets of Kanpur, the riverside ghats of Varanasi and the Golden Temple in Amritsar.


 
 
Texts @ 2011 Talal Al-Muhanna & Liz Lea