Leela Dance Collective is a proud torch-bearer of the teachings of the legendary kathak master, Pandit Chitresh Das. His unparalleled vision to bring kathak to America and his relentless commitment to the traditional guru-disciple tradition in modern times, led to the emergence of many of today’s generation’s most powerful and accomplished kathak artists, including the founders and principal artist of Leela Dance Collective.
Pandit Chitresh Das
Our story traces back to Pandit Chitresh Das’ historic emigration to the U.S. from Kolkata, India in 1970. Armed with a dream to teach Americans kathak dance, he was invited by the great Ustad Ali Akbhar Khan Sahib to establish the first dance program at the prestigious Ali Akbar College of Music in California. Through great perseverance and vision, Das later founded his own organization, the Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandam School, garnering international acclaim, receiving the highest honor from the U.S. government for traditional artists, and creating a kathak curriculum that has impacted the field worldwide. Das’ far-reaching influence as a prolific performer, choreographer, educator, and Guru changed the course of kathak history over four decades.
“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, The New York Times
Chitresh Das Dance Company
The Leela Dance Collective’s roots lie in Pandit Chitresh Das’ award-winning company founded in 1980. The Chitresh Das Dance Company was the first all-American kathak company that not only annually toured India to critical acclaim, but was the first non-Western dance company to ever receive the coveted “Company Grant” from the National Endowment for the Arts. 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 fiery, contemporary sensibility. CDDC dancers exemplified Das’ emphasis on the technical, graceful, and dramatic aspects of kathak dance. The Collective’s principal artists – Seibi Lee, Rachna Nivas, and Rina Mehta – each trained with Das in the traditional guru-shishya parampara for almost two decades, performing in his company and training generations of dancers at his school. Today’s touring productions of the Collective, such as SPEAK and Son of the Wind, represent a direct continuation of Das’ work to elevate kathak on the world stage.
Currently the CDDC Archive is being hosted on Leela SF’s previous website – you will be redirected to kathak.org/cddc-archive.
Making of the California Gharana
This interview series brings to life the behind-the-scene stories of how Pandit Chitresh Das’ influential and unique lineage of kathak developed over the course of four decades – a lineage that has been often coined today as the “California Gharana”. Learn more about Das’ senior students as well as musical artists who emerged from this treasured era of North Indian classical art in the San Francisco Bay Area. These artists played a vital role in this new gharana and each have left deep imprints on the rich legacy of the Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandam School of Kathak, some of whom have gone on to become principal artists and soloists in the Leela Dance Collective today.
Currently the Making of the California Gharana Interview Series is being hosted on Leela SF’s previous website – you will be redirected to kathak.org/blog.