OBITUARIES

Chitresh Das dies at 70; Indian classical dancer was master of kathak

Chitresh Das, master of Indian kathak dance, dies at 70

Chitresh Das, a renowned practitioner and teacher of the kathak form of Indian classical dance, died Sunday in Marin County. He was 70.

The San Francisco-based Chhandam School of Kathak, which Das founded, said in a statement that he died after suffering a tear in his aorta.

Das brought kathak to the United States in the 1970s, around the same time that Indian classical music was gaining popularity in the country, thanks to the likes of Ravi Shankar.

Kathak uses dance and facial expressions as part of a entertaining narrative. Many kathak pieces rely on ancient Indian epics as source material.

"Kathak comes from the word katha, meaning 'to tell stories,'" Das said in a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "In ancient times, in all the great countries, minstrels, bards and rhapsodists told stories of the gods and the goddesses, and then they did whatever entertaining form they had. Kathak originated in India in this way.

"The dancers would tell stories, going from village to village, town to town, and as the art developed, it became part of the court patronage of the king."

Das was known for his fast spins and powerful, rhythmic footwork accompanied by the sound of bells he wore around his ankles.

"The dance is highly focused on the rhythm in the music," he said in the L.A. Times interview. "You have to be very much in tune with the drummer and the musicians. If for a nick of a second you lose the beat, you will be off the rhythm."

Born in Kolkata, India, in 1944, Das came to the United States in 1970 to teach kathak at the University of Maryland, according to a biography on the website of his school.

He was later invited to California by another prominent Indian artist, musician Ali Akbar Khan, and went on to establish his own school.

One of his aims was to make the dance format more accessible to Westerners.

"Because I am a pioneer in this country, I have to do this," he said in 1989. "For a Western audience, I must think of how to be accessible. If I just danced for three hours doing all these different things, it might be very good, but I have the mission to spread the knowledge of kathak without breaking the tradition and keeping it intact."

Das was the recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship and numerous awards.

Survivors include his wife, Celine; two daughters, Shivaranjani and Saadhvi; and his brother, Ritesh Das.

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