Classical Indian Kathak dance teacher Pandit Chitresh Das has passed away. Das described as “an ecstatic presence, wild-eyed and haired, still performing his athletically demanding style of dance—with its 10 pounds of bells on each ankle and its rapid-fire foot-stampings—into his 70th year” by KQED Arts. Das founded the Chhandam School of Kathak in San Francisco and later opened schools “across California, and in Boston, Mumbai, and Kolkata,” according to NBC News, influencing generations of dancers.
Kathak is a form of dance from North India. Das was well-known in the arts and dance world and is featured in the documentary Upaj:Improvise.
“All of us at CAAM are deeply saddened by his passing, and we are happy that through the film medium we helped make his extraordinary artistry and legacy available to future generations,” said CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong.
CAAM funded the documentary featuring Das and co-presented the film on public television. The film, by Hoku Uchiyama, “showcases two dance forms in seemingly separate worlds: Kathak, an ancient dance from North India which has journeyed through Asia, later diverging to influence flamenco in southern Spain, and tap dance, a more contemporary American dance with deep ties to the American South.” The film aired on AfroPop and received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Upaj:Improvise world premiered at the 2011 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival at the Montgomery Theater in San Jose, which Das attended. Youth dancers from the Chhandam School of Kathak – Chitresh Das Dance Company performed before the screening and Das himself and Jason Samuels Smith performed after the film and then participated in a Q&A. His youth dancers from the dance company also performed during the 2014 CAAMFest San Jose Opening Night party this past September. CAAM sends his family, students, and dance company our deepest condolences.
Main image: Kathak teacher Pandit Chitresh Das speaks during a Q&A after the World Premiere of Upaj:Improvise at the 2011 SFIAAFF, with tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith. Both are featured in Upaj: Improvise. Photo by Matthew Lin.