Charlotte Moraga is the Artistic Director of the Chitresh Das Institute. She began studying Kathak under Pandit Chitresh Das in 1992, and became a principal dancer with the Chitresh Das Dance Company from 1996 - 2016. She has performed solo and in company works multiple times in many major Indian cities, including Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Pondicherry and many others, as well as throughout the United States. On December 29, 2018, she will be receiving the ANUGAMI award in Kolkata from Nadam at their Pratishruti Kathak Festival where she will perform solo.
Nadam founder and director Sandip Mallick describes the ANUGAMI award as follows: “Anugami is an award to an artist in the field of Indian classical dance and music, who has continued his or her association for talim (training) under the same Guru for more than 25 years. On January 9, 2018 we gave the first Anugami award to Vidushi Saswati Sen ji for her dedicated association with her Guru, Padmabibhusan Pt. Birju Maharaj ji.
This year we are honored to have Charlotte Moraga as a recipient of the same for her dedication to her Guru, Pt. Chitresh Das ji, to the art form of kathak and for carrying on the legacy and work of Pandit Chitresh Das for more than 25 years.”
Could you talk about the significance this performance and award has to you personally?
Charlotte Moraga (CM) Performing in India is always a great honor and I haven’t performed in India since 2011, so it’s been a long time. And I always have to prepare in such a way that people know that whenever I perform, I’m thinking of how to communicate to people what the significance of what I’m doing is to me in relation to Guruji. Especially in Kolkata, where he was born and raised, going back there is always a huge honor and getting this award as well. The significance of that is very heavy because I feel like we’re carrying on something that was part of him growing up. As time goes on I have to think, some people would have known him, but there are also people who don’t know him. And so the importance of also educating people about his contribution to the art of Kathak; He is known to have pushed the envelope of the art of Kathak and being such a virtuosic performer; that can always be controversial because he was always doing something new or something people perhaps have never seen before. So the pressure or the importance of presenting things in a way that is very authentic and also up to the standard is very important.
What do you think it means to carry out a guru’s legacy, and how do you try to do so?
CM I think of myself as a sort of conduit. He gave me so much, he taught me so much, and I feel like it’s my duty and my responsibility to pass it on. He came to America to teach Americans and “add to the bouquet of America” as he would say, but at the same time he completely transformed the culture in that way too. Carrying out a guru’s legacy is really just continuing to do the work. He always said “practice, practice, practice” so I don’t just think of it as my own practice and my own dance, but the practice of teaching, the practice of Kathak, and also for him it wasn’t just about dance, he always said “you can be a great dancer but how great of a human being can you be?” And it’s also the practice of being a better person and contributing to enriching people’s lives, so that’s part of carrying on the legacy. That’s something I think about and try and do every day.
Guruji didn’t just push the envelope on the virtuosic aspects of Kathak. He also wanted to expand people’s minds and make people think about why they’re doing things, not just do things mindlessly, and make people go deeper into things, not just take them at face value. So whenever I approach work, whether it’s developing a new piece of choreography or new story, I always think what would he think? What is the depth of this? What is the essence of this? What is the question that can guide me that has extreme relevance in this day and time?
Our last school show, the story that we did, Aranya Katha, was really inspired by him because I had given a story book to Shivranjani at Christmas time, and he loved it and he said this is going to be our next school show. Unfortunately that was the Christmas before he passed so he didn’t get a chance to see what came of his inspiration, but I felt like I needed to make that happen. But he loved that idea and I think now for me also, the reason I gave that book is because in this day and time it’s more relevant than ever to bring the story of women who have stood up for what is right and who have fought for our rights to basic things, such as air, firewood, the fruits of the trees. Nowadays we are still having to bring those stories to life. So to do that story felt really good, like I was carrying on something that he would want to put out there.
For so many years I was by his side while he was creating new works. Seeing what his process was like. What about that process works for me and what doesn’t, has also been an interesting journey. I think a great deal about how he did Sita Haran in 2009, and the way he wanted to end. I played the role of Vali and after I had been shot by Ram, he didn’t want me to be lifted up to show the salvation. He wanted to end with the pain on my face because he wanted people to question is violence ever right? Is this really the right thing? And, of course, many people would say oh that was done because Vali needed to be redeemed, but if we just keep doing things because that’s how it’s always been done, we’re not going to know if what we are doing in our own lives right now needs to be changed. I think that to be a human being you have to wake up everyday and ask what can I do differently today that will make the world a better place? Or what can I continue to do that will make the world a better place? And I feel like that’s a part of carrying on his legacy because that was very important to him. He would always come to class hearing in the news about some horrible tragedy with child prostitution or so many other things and he would ask us, what are you doing about that? I feel like carrying on his legacy in the dance, you have to think that way.
What are you excited about for the coming year?
CM I am excited to create more dance, I am excited to see more people discover what they can accomplish through the dance on their own, to have up-and-coming students. We have a new batch of Youth Company members! Seeing new students that are very excited about developing and pushing themselves to new heights, that’s always a great inspiration to me and very thrilling. And seeing what we’re able to create as a community for our new school show in May is really exciting too. And I’m not going to give away any secrets! Last year was a sold out show and we did some new things, so I want to make sure that we don’t rest on our laurels, but keep pushing and elevating the art form.
Charlotte Moraga will perform at Jai Hind Auditorium as part of the Pratishruti Festival on December 28, 2018 at 5:30pm. Tickets for one day of performance are Rupees 50/100/200 or for all three days 120/250/500. RSVP through WhatsApp +918017818627 or purchase on site at the Hall. The Pratishruti Festival is presented by Nadam, founded and directed by Sandip Mallick.
See a recent video of Charlotte Moraga performing abhinaya to Koyeliya Gaan Thama Ebar…, the composition of the great maestro Jnan Prakash Ghosh, sung beautifully by vocalist Ranjana Ghatak