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Kathak Yoga - A Blend Of All Elements Dance

Ranjai Saigal

Pandit Chitresh Das, guru of Gretchen Hayden presented a workshop on Kathak at the Peobody Essex Museum on Saturday May 14, 2005.  The maestro dazzled the audience with a scintillating display of complex rhythms and movements in the traditional Kathak style.

“Indian classical dance is historical, philosophical and mathematical,” said Das, “We can multiply and divide almost instinctively.” Pandit Chitresh Das who is now sixty has devoted his entire life to the cause of Kathak. Trained from the age of nine, by his guru Pandit Ram Narayan Misra, Pandit Das was schooled in both major Kathak traditions, embodying each in his artistry:  the graceful and sensual elements of the Lucknow school combined with the dynamic and powerful rhythms of the Jaipur school. His performing career was launched in India when he was invited by Pandit Ravi Shankar to perform in the first Rimpa Festival in Banaras. He has since performed internationally, featured in India's celebrated festivals and touring as a solo artist as well as with the Chitresh Das Dance Company (CDDC) in the United State, Europe, and Asia. Pandit Das' pioneering contribution to the American arts scene began in 1970 when he received a Whitney Fellowship through the University of Maryland to teach Kathak. In 1971, he was invited by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan to establish a Kathak dance program at the renowned Ali Akbar College of Music in California.

Das has created Kathak Yoga where along with dancing the performer sings or plays the Tabla. “I was taught by my Guruji to sing while I dance. It was that rigorous training that is standing me in good stead even today – I am sixty and yet I can dance with energy,” said Das.  Despite his many years of stay in the United States, Das has not deviated from traditional Kathak presentation.  He has a great sense of humor and he used it to color his tales which talked of a time bygone – when Shishyas lived in Gurukuls and the competition between artists in the form of Jugalbandi was very prevalent. “If I got the opportunity to dance impromptu and was challenged to a competition my mother would give sweets to all my neighbors since it was such an honor.”

The musicians who accompanied Das were excellent. George Ruckert not only played the Sarod but also played the violin with great ease. Sarah Morelli, a doctoral student in ethnomusicology at Harvard University was one of the accompanists. She is doing her doctorate on Das’s life as an artist and his experiences in America.

As you watched Das, it was clear that he and Kathak were one. There was no life for him separate from dance. His bells were an integral part of him and the complex rhythms were indelibly marked in every part of his body.  His energy and passion for the art was inspirational and we hope this maestro will continue to inspire audiences for years to come.

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