Bulbul Chowdhury’s Dance Tours in the UK and Europe (1953)

Sunday 3 October 2021

Bulbul Chowdhury’s Dance Tours in the UK and Europe (1953) By Dr Priyanka Basu


The summer of 1953 in England was marked by Elizabeth II’s coronation week celebrations all over the country. During the same time, a troupe of ‘Eastern dancers’—as the erstwhile English newspapers reported it—were travelling and performing in the UK and Europe under the leadership of dancer, Rashed Ahmed Chowdhury, popularly known as Bulbul Chowdhury. One of Bulbul’s choreographies during this tour—Jeno Bhule Naa Jayi (Lest We Forget)—portrayed the devastating effects of the Bengal Famine (1943) orchestrated by the colonial administration in the Indian subcontinent. Bulbul’s choreography resonated with the cultural movement, ideology and performances of the Indian People’s Theatre Association in the 1940s; he himself was part of the IPTA in Calcutta for some time. As the national dancer of newly formed Pakistan, Bulbul and his troupe consciously and actively worked to create a national dance for the new nation-state as well as to make a strong political statement by reminding the Western audience of the atrocities of colonisation. ‘Lest We Forget’ was well-received by the audience in Dublin during the coronation week.

This talk will focus on Bulbul Chowdhury’s dance tours in the UK and Europe as a continuation from his earlier tours in West Pakistan. It will highlight Bulbul and his wife, Afroza’s role as performers and cultural workers as they sought to build a new vocabulary for dance in the immediate decolonial context of South Asia.

Dr Priyanka Basu is a Lecturer in Performing Arts in the Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College London. She has previously worked as a Curator of the ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ project at the British Library and has organised the South Asia Seminar Series as part of the project. She holds Visiting Fellowships at the Institute of Advanced Studies, UCL and the SOAS South Asia Institute. She is currently finishing her first monograph, The Cultural Politics of Folk: Transnational Histories in Bangladesh and India (forthcoming from Routledge UK).

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