Dozens of Kathak gurus and disciples straight from India are about to take over the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for a major international conference. I wrote about the man behind the gathering, San Francisco’s own Chitresh Das, for today’s New York Times:

“IN most classical dance forms, effortlessness is an illusion, but in Indian Kathak it?s a force of will. That seemed the only way to explain the strained, determined smiles of a dozen women as they stamped and spun, tunics soaked with sweat and feet laden with five pounds of bells. At the front of the room Chitresh Das, the wild-eyed man who styles himself the George Balanchine of Kathak, slapped the tabla. ?Taka dimi, taka dimi,? he shouted, chanting the beat. ?Come on, I?m not hearing you. Louder!?

The rhythms rushed to an ecstatic explosion, and as the climax faded, Mr. Das?s face softened from the stern authority of Shiva to the mischievous confidence of Krishna, two Hindu deities he has portrayed countless times in six decades devoted to his ancient art.

?This is a recent thing in Kathak history,? he said, nodding proudly at the panting women in the cultural center where he gives his classes. ?You see, because our form is classical doesn?t mean it doesn?t evolve.?

He was talking about his proudest achievement, Kathak Yoga: not the latest exercise craze, but rather a practice of movement meditation that updates one of India?s eight official classical dance forms, as deemed by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India?s rough equivalent to the National Endowment for the the Arts.

Traditionally Kathak has been passed on through intensive study with a single teacher and performed in long solo improvisations that can last for hours at a stretch. But this more modern form features dancers continually reciting the basic rhythm while embellishing upon it with their feet.

Kathak, a northern Indian dance tradition and the country?s only classical dance form with both Muslim and Hindu influences, has undergone many evolutions in the last 20 years. These include Martha Graham-like abstractions, Bollywood-esque spectacles, even a lavish Kathak ?Romeo and Juliet.? Akram Khan, who melds Kathak and contemporary dance, is one of the hottest choreographers in Britain, and fusion is a buzzword among Kathak practitioners in India.

That?s a far cry from the intimate performances of kathakas (the word literally means storytellers) who delighted 17th- and 18th-century Mughal rulers by acting out Hindu tales and riffing with virtuoso tabla players.”

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