The National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, is India's premier cultural institution. Inaugurated in 1969, it was the first multi-venue, multi-genre cultural centre in South Asia. The NCPA is committed to preserving and promoting India's rich and vibrant artistic heritage in the fields of music, dance, theatre, film, literature and photography, as well as presenting new and innovative work by Indian and international artists from a diverse range of genres including drama, contemporary dance, orchestral concerts, opera, jazz and chamber music. Today, the NCPA hosts more than 700 events each year, making it India’s largest and most holistic performing arts centre.
The NCPA was the brainchild of JRD Tata and Dr. Jamshed Bhabha, two visionaries who saw India's need for an all-encompassing world-class performing arts centre. Luminaries from various fields have contributed towards lending the NCPA the iconic status it now enjoys, with such artists as Satyajit Ray and Yehudi Menuhin as its earliest mentors. Built on land reclaimed from the sea, the NCPA campus houses five theatres (including the innovative Tata Theatre, designed by the postmodernist American architect Philip Johnson), as well as galleries, libraries, restaurants, and numerous reception spaces. Boasting the best-appointed auditoriums in India in terms of equipment and expertise, the NCPA frequently attracts major events from overseas and is ideally suited to host large productions, including fully-staged operas and ballets.
As India’s role on the international stage expands, the NCPA has been investing in the country’s cultural future. The Centre regularly presents performances and workshops by leading artists from around the country. As the national performing arts centre, the NCPA must also have an eye towards the international arts. The NCPA presents several international groups, and has collaborated with arts organizations and theatres around the globe including the Southbank Centre, Carnegie Hall, National Theatre (London), the Edinburgh Festival, and the Metropolitan Opera (New York). The NCPA Mumbai also regularly welcomes some of the leading orchestras from around the world, including the Vienna Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, Bavarian State Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and London Symphony Orchestra, amongst others. The NCPA places great emphasis on education and is developing a reputation as a major centre for training and education in all genres, building on an already well-established programme of workshops, seminars, and special events for families and children.
In 2006, the NCPA established the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), the country’s first and only professional orchestra. Founded by NCPA Chairman Khushroo Suntook and violin virtuoso Marat Bisengaliev, who serves as the Music Director, the SOI regularly performs with some of the world’s leading conductors and soloists.
The NCPA Library is the only specialized performing arts library in the city of Mumbai, and as part of its mission to preserve India’s cultural heritage, the NCPA has built up extensive archives of more than 6,000 hours of music and film recorded at the NCPA since its inception. In 2011, the NCPA partnered with Sony Music to release the first set of eleven original recordings of renowned Indian Music artists from the NCPA Archives. The NCPA libraries also hold more than 20,000 books about the performing arts and other cultural spheres including film, painting, sculpture, architecture, photography, television and fashion. The addition of the Stuart-Liff Collection in 2010, gave the NCPA a treasure trove of sought-after books, recordings, and musical scores that is truly unique in the world of Western vocal and operatic music.
Now approaching the fiftieth year of its existence, with an ever-expanding list of performances, educational projects, exhibitions, and much more, the NCPA continues to build on its reputation as one of the leading arts centres in Asia.
"To innovate, to break new ground, to venture on a path not trodden before, is always a difficult and challenging task anywhere, but particularly in a developing country like India with a vast and growing population and heavy demands on its resources to meet the people's needs."
- JRD Tata
"The decision to establish (the NCPA) was promoted by the recognition of the pressing need to preserve for posterity and develop India's rich legacy in the arts, particularly those which depend for their survival on performance and oral traditions."
"The art has been handed down by oral tradition and kept alive for centuries by teachers and masters…This category of hereditary teachers is fast drying out and disappearing… Thus, the proposed National Centre for the Performing Arts is necessary for the survival and preservation of a great heritage of music, dance and drama."
- Jamshed J. Bhabha
The inauguration of the Studio, Auditorium and Library at the Centre's premises in Bhulabai Desai Road by the Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi, took place on December 29, 1969 and was followed by a week-long festival featuring P.L. Deshpande, Yamini Krishnamurti and Pandit Ravi Shankar.
Viewing it as an urgent task, the National Centre recorded the great exponents of Indian classical music for its Archives, thereby saving it for posterity. Between 1969 and 1974, most of the leading exponents of the Hindustani and Kamatic traditions were recorded.
In 1976, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited the Tata Theatre to see a kathakali programme presented by the Kerala Kalamandalam.
During the 1970s, the NCPA saw many esteemed international performances, including: The German Touring Opera Company, Berlin (1971), Music Group of London (1972), Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin (1973), German Opera Ballet (1973), Stockholm Marionette Theatre (1975), The Royal Shakespeare Company (1976), Sydney Conservatorium Chamber Orchestra, Stuttgart Trio (1978) and the Sydney String Quartet (1978).
The Tata Theatre was formally inaugurated by Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, on October 11,1980
In 1982, The Tata Iron and Steel Company, in commemoration of its Platinum Jubilee, presented the NCPA with the Experimental Theatre. The Theatre was formally inaugurated in April 1986.
The Rodin Exhibition featured in March and April 1983 by the NCPA, in the foyers of its Tata Theatre, in collaboration with the French Embassy and Musee Rodin in Paris. About 100 bronzes,some of which were about 6 feet high and weighed more than a tonne each, were on display in and around the Tata Theatre.
The NCPA Mumbai initiated a series of East-West encounters involving composers who were invited to participate in an inquiry into the possibilities of creative work, drawing from both Indian and Western sources. The project involved seminars and workshops dealing with the fields of music, philosophy, dance, visual arts and drama between 1983 and 1986.
In 1987, the Godrej Dance Theatre was constructed. The Godrej Dance Academy, like similar facilities at the outset, was started in the NCPA’s Teaching and Research Block. It was here that many outstanding Master Classes were conducted under eminent gurus like Mohanrao Kallianpurkar and Kelucharan Mohapatra.
The Piramal Gallery opened in 1987. Originally intended as an exhibition area for the new Centre for Photography as an Art Form, today the Piramal Gallery presents works by leading Indian and international photographers as well as young, promising artists
On New Year’s Eve 1998, as the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre neared completion, the entire edifice was destroyed by fire, the result of an electrical short-circuit. Dr Bhabha called a meeting the next morning and started by saying “tomorrow we start reconstruction plans”. Jamshed Bhabha Theatre was inaugurated on 24th November 1999
In August 2006, the NCPA formed The Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), the country’s first fully professional symphony orchestra, offering two seasons in Mumbai each year, one in September and one in February. The SOI was founded by the NCPA Chairman, Khushroo N Suntook, and international virtuoso violinist, Marat Bisengaliev,who serves as the orchestra’s Music Director.
Dr. Bhabha’s motto in life was “When the cause is good, the means will follow”. The creation of India’s National Centre for the Performing Arts at Nariman Point in Mumbai is a tangible example of this belief. Dr Jamshed Bhabha passed away on 30th May 2007. He has been ably succeeded as Chairman of the NCPA by Mr. Khushroo Suntook, who carries forward the vision and legacy of the Centre’s founding father, with a view to creating an international arts centre for India fit for audiences in the 21st century