Chitresh Das, 1944-2015

Rita Felciano informed me of Chitresh Das’death January 4, quickly followed by Allan Ulrich’s obituary on S.F. Gate. He leaves his
fatherhood of two daughters under three, his widow Celene, a far-flung connection of disciples: his native Kolkatta, Boston, and studios throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Chitresh came to the United States to teach at the University of
Maryland in 1970, in 1971 to Marin County at the invitation of
Ali Akbar Khan. In 1979 he started his own school and the beginnings
of a company.

Later Nonzizi Cayu invited Chitresh, Malonga Casquelord and Rosa Montoya to teach in the dance program at San Francisco State University.

A slim man with remarkably beautiful hands, large eyes, his face a
softened oblong, Das was a rhythmic power house who possessed a disconcerting habit of commenting on what he was doing. Das wanted to clarify the specifics and he never modified the practice.

Since Kathak also tells stories, Das told several, more elaborate as his students gained in dexterity and understanding. One of his all-time solo favorites was The Train, an iconic remnant of the positive side of the British Raj, with the echoes in the train station, chugging on the outskirts, full speed over India’s flat countryside, diminishing speed and braking at the next station, all accomplished with his ankle bells.

For other stories, whether romantic or mythologically based, Das’ portrayal of women usually comprised two extremes, one as aggressive as she dared, his eyes and mouth leaving no doubt re lusty intent. The alternative, so shy and simpering, it was difficult to believe the maiden was capable of much of anything. His male characters could be larger than life.

Sometime past sixty, Chitresh and tap dance virtuoso Jason Samuels Smith bonded, performing jointly in India and the United States. . Das never stinted on energy, and one wondered how long he could push himself. Aortic dissection was the unfortunate answer.

While my personal taste veered to Birju Maharaj, Chitresh Das clearly
provided a major link in Indian dance awareness in the United States.


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