Leela Dance Collective is proud to be carrying forward the legacy of the critically acclaimed Chitresh Das Dance Company (CDDC), founded in 1980 by legendary kathak master and guru, Pandit Chitresh Das. The company established kathak, classical dance from North India, on the U.S. stage, exciting and enthralling audiences with its groundbreaking productions for 35 years. Leela Dance Collective’s artistic directors – Seibi Lee, Rachna Nivas, and Rukhmani Mehta – trained with Pandit Chitresh Das in the traditional guru-shishya parampara, performing and touring with CDDC for nearly two decades as principal dancers. Their work with the Leela Dance Collective embodies Das’s rootedness in tradition and innovative spirit. Today’s touring productions of the Collective, such as SPEAK and Son of the Wind, represent a direct continuation of Das’s work to elevate kathak on the world stage.
Pandit Chitresh Das
Pandit Chitresh Das was a true master of the art of kathak dance. He was known world-wide for his virtuosic solo performances, groundbreaking productions and collaborations, and tireless dedication to teaching. Throughout his life Pandit Das worked to innovate “within the ring-fence of tradition,” infusing new vitality into the art form while remaining faithful to its classical foundation. He founded and directed the critically-acclaimed Chitresh Das Dance Company for 35 years, introducing and exciting thousands of audience members in the U.S and India. His sensational collaboration with Jason Samuels Smith, India Jazz Suites, toured the globe for nearly a decade and was the inspiration for Upaj: Improvise, a documentary exploring the significance of their friendship and artistic collaboration. His life’s work was the subject of A Guru’s Journey, an ethnographic study of Das’s work in California, by ethnomusicologist and artist, Sarah Morelli.
His tremendous influence and impact is reflected by the many awards and honors he received, amongst which include the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts—the highest award presented to traditional artists by the United States government. As a guru and teacher, Pandit Das adhered to the guru-shishya parampara (guru-disciple tradition) to an extent rarely seen today. His holistic teaching style has enriched the lives of thousands of students in India and the USA and produced many senior disciples who have gone on to establish their own performance and teaching careers.
Read more about Pandit Chitresh Das
“A performer who has opened new avenues for his form, it is easy to see
why Das has been acknowledged as a phenomenon.”
– The Hindustan Times
“…one of the more blissful dance experiences of the decade.”
– Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Chronicle
“And lest anyone wonder about the ability of his disciples to keep the true flame… he brought out the Chitresh Das Dance Company for a demonstration of his new training technique, Kathak Yoga. It makes even the hairiest Ashtanga class look like child’s play…”
– Rachel Howard, SF Chronicle
Chitresh Das Dance Company
The Chitresh Das Dance Company was the first all-American kathak company established in 1980 by kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das. Over its ensuing 40 year history, Das created some 50 new works, including ground-breaking productions that were evocative and commanding, combining the richness of ancient India with a contemporary sensibility. The company received numerous grants from established national arts funders including National Endowment for the Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts, and Dance USA. Between 2003 and 2016 the company was awarded the prestigious Isadora Duncan Dance Award seven times for East as Center (2003), Pancha Jati (2004), Sampurnam (2006), India Jazz Suites (2007, performance), India Jazz Suites (2007, musical score), Kathak at the Crossroads (2008), and Shiva (2017). The Chitresh Das Dance Company established kathak dance on the American stage and left an indelible mark on the field of Indian classical dance. CDDC’s rich history is available to audiences today through the CDDC Archive, compiled and hosted by Leela San Francisco.
Making of the California Gharana
This interview series tells the story of how Pandit Chitresh Das’s influential and unique lineage of kathak developed over the course of four decades – a lineage often coined today as the California Gharana. Learn more about Das’ senior-most disciples and students as well as the renowned musical artists that influenced Das’ artistry and development. Dancers and musicians alike, each artist highlighted in this series has left an indelible imprint on the legacy of the Chitresh Das Dance Company and kathak dance in the United States. Their stories and artistic journeys are documented here as a way to honor history and lineage and shepherd the art form’s development into the future.
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