Pandit Chitresh Das 1944 - 2015
Pandit Das was first and foremost a master and virtuosic performer of the classical kathak tradition. Based on his concept of “innovation within tradition,” Pandit Das explored the boundaries of kathak technique and performance, creating compelling, new works and techniques that are inventive, yet deeply rooted in the kathak tradition.
A child prodigy trained from the age of nine by his guru, Pandit Ram Narayan Mishra, Pandit Das was schooled in the two major kathak traditions. His performing career was launched in India when he was invited by Pandit Ravi Shankar to perform in the first Rimpa Festival in Benaras.
In 1970 he was brought to the United States on a Whitney Fellowship to teach kathak at the University of Maryland and to learn modern dance. In 1971 the renowned Indian classical musician Ustad Ali Akbar Khan invited him to establish a dance program at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, California. Pandit Das’ founded the Chitresh Das Dance Company & Chhandam School of Kathak (CDDC) in 1980.
His collaboration with tap star Jason Samuels Smith, India Jazz Suites (IJS), was named one of the top ten productions of the year in 2010 by the Boston Globe. IJS has toured India seven times (including 2013 U.S. State Department funded India tour), Australia and the U.S. Upaj: Improvise, a film documenting their collaboration has screened at numerous film festivals internationally in 2013, including its U.S. premiere at the prestigious Mill Valley Film Festival and in London at the Raindance Film Festival. Upaj: Improvise aired nationally on PBS in January 2014.
In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts chose Pandit Das as a National Heritage Fellow, the highest award bestowed to a traditional artist by the U.S. government. In 2013 he was honored by the Governor of West Bengal for his artistic commitment to kathak and Indian classical arts in India and around the world.
Das not only effectively established an awareness and appreciation of kathak in this country, he simultaneously preserved the deepest of the kathak tradition—the traditional solo—while simultaneously constantly pushing the envelope of the art form through innovative works and collaborations.
Das' commitment to training and empowering the next generation has left a legacy of hundreds of students who have trained directly under him, and many more who are continuing to learn from his disciples. An uncompromising and tireless advocate for the art of kathak, Das' integrity, seva (service), and a wicked sense of humor has made him a profound Guru whose gift lives on in those he touched.
"Das remains a stunning performer...when he is on stage, you cannot take your eyes off him...clearly, one lifetime simply may not be enough to contain Chitresh Das, his artistry, his humanity, his passion."
- Rita Felciano, SF Bay Guardian.