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Kathak performer and Guru Pt Chitresh Das passes away at 70 

January 13, 2015

Pandit Chitresh Das, born on 9th November 1944, passed away of acute aortic dissection in San Francisco on 4th January 2015.  He was at his home when he suffered the condition. Pt. Das lives on through his wife Celine, daughters Shivaranjani and Saadhvi, his brother Ritesh Das, his disciples and students who will take his legacy forward.

In 2009, Pandit Das received the highest honour bestowed by the American government for a traditional artist - The National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment of the Arts. ‘Kathak Day’ and ‘Indian Music and Dance Day’ have been declared in the city of San Francisco in his honour. A prolific artist, his traditional performances, choreography and evolution of Kathak, influenced the art form world-wide.

Pt. Das’s contribution to the world of art remains unparalleled. He worked tirelessly to bring peace and harmony through art and devoted his whole life to developing Indian classical arts and creating a legacy of knowledge and learning for future generations, both in India and abroad. He was born and trained in a time and tradition that drew heavily from both Hindu and Islamic influence on Kathak and classical music and he worked towards bringing this concept of unity and harmony to the world thorough his work. He built bridges between countries and communities through dance and this remains the message of his life. He passed away on a date that is considered auspicious in Hindu, Jain and Muslim calendars.

Pt. Chitresh Das’s last rites were conducted on 9th January at Mount Tamalpais Mortuary and Cemetery, San Rafael, CA.

Chitresh Das Dance Company & Chhandam 30th Anniversary:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGQGpxY51rg#t=11

Some of his old friends and established artists remember him fondly thus:-

Purbayan Chatterjee:
Those who are the game-changers are remembered in posterity. Pt Chitresh Das carved out his own niche by introducing innovative formats like Kathak yoga and collaborations with tap dance. He has left behind a legacy with a vast network of students who are dedicated to the cause of spreading Pandit ji's style. I'm speechless in my grief. Since my adolescent years I've been witness to Pandit ji's great contribution and today I'm left trying to reconcile the great loss to all of us.

Pt Debu Chaudhuri:
I was shocked to hear this sad news. He recently visited me with his student Seema Mehta. Before going to USA, Chitresh was already widely known in India. His foundation in Kathak and music was formed from his childhood. His agility in dance at 70 was like a 20 year old. He has contributed so much to India; his innovation of Kathak yoga is unparalleled. Such rhythmic acumen is truly rare. He cannot die; our prayer to God to give all of us strength and hope that his students will keep his memory and work alive.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan:
Multidimensional performer and choreographer. A great loss to India. 

Ustad Sabir Khan:
It is a great loss to the world. He was the creator, he created his own style. A great artiste and a great human being who made so many people. My first performance with dance was with Mr Chitresh Das at Max Mueller Bhavan. I must have performed with him in more than 150 concerts and toured with him along with Parween Sultana.

Begum Parween Sultana:
I have known him for decades. I've had wonderful times with him touring all of south India. It is a great loss to the world. He was the Sadhaka the way he used to perform. His achievement was unparalleled and we cannot see his magical feet again.

Ustad Nishat Khan:
He was a dedicated artist, very dedicated to his art. He was a nice and generous human being, very positive about life. He did a lot in America for dance. As we were growing up in Kolkata, he would drop by our house which was close. We spent a lot of time in my house. There were many concerts where he danced and I played. There was a lot of affection and that was a memorable time. He has left a lot of students behind to keep up the work he was doing. Artists do their bit, and he did a lot; the main thing is that the art has to live.

Pt Shankar Ghosh:
Chitresh was no less than a brother to me. We both taught at the Ali Akbar College of Music at California in the 70's. He was one of the great pioneers of Kathak and expanded the art in unique ways through his research and practice which made him a school of Kathak by himself. Mathematical complexities that were a characteristic of his dance style were unparalleled.

Major contributions:

Education
Founder of Chhandam School of Kathak( USA) and Chhandam Nritya Bharati (India) as well as the critically acclaimed Chitresh Das Dance Company, Pandit Chitresh Das was one of the most dynamic and far-reaching artists to have emerged from modern India.  He moved to America to teach Kathak at the University of Maryland in 1970. He subsequently taught at the Ali Akbar College of Music, Stanford University and founded the first university accredited Kathak course at the San Francisco State University. As a committed guru, he trained many dancers who have gone on to establish their own careers in Kathak dance. Chhandam School of Kathak founded by him in 1980, is today the largest institution of Indian classical dance outside India with over 700 students across the globe. Known as ‘dadaji’ to the several hundred students who studied with him over five decades, Pt. Das was a true guru who transformed lives through his art.

Kathak Yoga
A child prodigy, Pandit Das was a master and virtuosic performer of the classical Kathak tradition, his mastery extending over both the dynamic warrior like Jaipur Gharana as well as the delicate courtly sensuality of the Lucknow Gharana. He was trained by his guru Ram Narayan Misra as well as his father Prohlad Das and his mother Nilima Das, who he called ‘his first guru.’ He is the inventor of Kathak Yoga, which draws from 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. His ground-breaking technique Kathak Yoga was recently published as the subject of a doctoral dissertation at Harvard University. His performance and speed at the age of 70 was a subject of interest and his technique was being studied by sports scientist at the Heal Institute, Mumbai.

Compositions and choreography
His dynamism was evident from his award winning production India Jazz Suites (‘Fastest Feet in Rhythm’ in India) with Emmy award winning Tap star Jason Samuels Smith. Upaj, a documentary film on this award winning collaborative production was screened on PBS National TV in January 2014. Upaj premiered in India at the 16th Mumbai Film Festival in 2014. India Jazz Suites received the Isadora Duncan Award for Best Ensemble Performance in 2005 and has continued to tour across the world ever since. He created several original works, compositions and dance dramas, notable among them - Shabd, Ramayan, Sita Haran, Darbar and his last work Shiva. Yatra was his last collaborative work with Flamenco dancer Antonio Hidalgo Paz. His long standing dream to perform India Jazz Suites with Jason at the age of 70 came true on his 70th birthday when he performed at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco.

Selected Press Quotes

“Maharaja of Kathak”
- Asian Age, New Delhi

"A performer who has opened new avenues to his form, it is easy to see why Das has been acknowledged as a phenomenon."
- Hindustan Times, India

“With his superlative performance, Chitresh stole the show from the moment of his appearance. Even at 62, this slim and trim dancer mesmerized the audience with his dignified posture, style of presentation, incessant vigor and graceful movements. Following demands from the audience, the organizers had to prolong the program to allow Chitresh to demonstrate his world-famous piece on the sound of the railway engine.”
- The Statesman, India, 2006

"After the intermission, Chitresh Das, a true master, completely overwhelms me with his solo. His perfection of form, coupled with a transcendent stage presence, makes for an unforgettable performance, easily one of the most thrilling I've ever seen."
- Aimee Ts’ao, Dance Insider

“Now in his early 60s, an age at which most Western dancers have long retired from the theater, Das remains a stunning performer and the best advocate for his art.  When he is onstage, you cannot take your eyes off him, whether he’s moving through the pure dance passages requiring dizzying turns and mind-boggling footwork or the more expressive sections in which the dancer calls up a favorite story from the Mahabharata, impersonating all its different characters and sometimes the landscape as well…Clearly, one lifetime simply may not be enough to contain Chitresh Das, his artistry, his humanity, his passion.” 
- Rita Felciano, San Francisco Bay Guardian on his Goldie Lifetime Achievement Award, November 2006

“Pandit Chitresh Das, 61, and Jason Samuels Smith, 25, not only have rhythm; they are rhythm. They live and breathe rhythm. They got on top, beneath, around and even inside the rhythm and took the audience along in an amazing performance that had the Page Auditorium audience on its feet.”
- Susan Broili, Herald Sun review of India Jazz Suites at American Dance Festival, June 2006

“Complexity of rhythm is synonymous with the North Indian Kathak style, and Chitresh Das exemplified it in his stamping counterpoint as his feet set off rows of bells on his ankles.  In a perfect collaboration with his musicians, Abhijit Banerjee and Swapnamoy Banerjee, he moved into expressive and humorous mime before sharing his more abstract whirling patterns with three disciples (Charlotte Moraga, Jaiwanti Pamnani and Farah Shaikh)”. 
- Anna Kisselgoff New York Times review of American Dance Festival performance, July 2004

Selected Awards
- Citation by Governor of West Bengal (2013)
- Lifetime Achievement Award by Rotary Club of Bombay West (2013)
- National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts - the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government for a traditional artist (2009)
- Award from Bharatiya Vidhya Bhavan, a national arts institution in India founded in 1938, for outstanding contribution in the field of Kathak dance (2007)
- Isadora Duncan Dance Special Award for presenting the largest Indian classical dance festival outside of India (Kathak at the Crossroads, 2006)
- Goldie Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Francisco Bay Guardian (2006)
- Pandit Das and Mr. Smith received the Isadora Duncan Dance Award for best ensemble performance of the year for India Jazz Suites (2005)
- Collaboration with Tap star Jason Samuels Smith, India Jazz Suites, placed first in the top ten dance productions of 2005 by the San Francisco Chronicle
- Isadora Duncan Dance award for outstanding choreography and performance (2004)
- Inaugural lifetime achievement award from the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival (2004)
- Isadora Duncan Dance Award (Izzie) for best dancer of the year and his collaborative production, East as Center (2003)
- Irvine Fellowship in Dance (2000)
- Pandit Das was given the honor of twice representing his home state of West Bengal in tours throughout India (1998, 1999).
- Isadora Duncan Dancer of the Year Award (1987)

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