It’s a confluence of East and West when Kathak and tap dance meet on the beat
19 Jan 2012
It all began backstage at the American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina, US, in 2004. Pandit Chitresh Das, Kathak master and founder of Chhandam in San Francisco, the largest school of Indian classical dance outside India, met Jason Samuels Smith, an Emmy award-winning, African-American tap dancer. The conversation turned into a collaboration that has since toured the world under a deceptive title—India Jazz Suites. The magic they create with rhythm will now resonate across Indian cities.
Jugalbandi: Das (left) and Smith are on a tour of Indian cities.
“Fusion is confusion,” says Smith. At 27, he is already tipped to be the biggest star on the American tap scene, with none other than the legendary late Gregory Hines having proclaimed him “possibly the next greatest”. The India tour, Fastest Feet in Rhythm, is Smith and Das’opening to a year packed with concerts around the US and Canada. Typically, Smith opens the show with his solo, accompanied by a jazz trio. Das follows with his dramatic footwork and lightning spins, his style rooted strongly in the Jaipur and Lucknow schools of Kathak. “Jason is like the younger me,” says Das, who is 67. “He is fascinated by thelayakari, the mathematics of rhythm that I present.”
Both Kathak and tap are so percussive that they seem to hit it off in their own artistic languages. The chemistry has been built over the years. Smith took Das to places where he could understand the roots of the tap tradition. “He took me to Harlem and to various tap festivals. There I saw something called cutting contests. We have now introduced similar cutting contests in Chhandam, our school in California.”
In turn, Smith toured India with Das in 2009 to experience the traditions of Kathak in places like Lucknow. Although they do not draw any parallels between Kathak and tap, upaj or improvisation is the essence of excellence in both.
The smiles and winks they exchange on stage also have backstories. “At IIT Kharagpur, we noticed there were these boys who were watching from the far end but didn’t react at all. After the show, Jason and I went up to them and showed them how we did complex math with 9½ beats using our body and dance, and it left them awestruck,” remembers Das. At moments like these, the duo unite through art to demolish prejudice and give birth to innovation.
The show travels to Chennai on 22 January, Mumbai on 26 January, Bangalore on 29 January, Goa on 31 January and Ahmedabad on 3 February. At Mumbai: 7pm, National Centre for the Performing Arts, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point.Tickets,Rs. 500, Rs. 700 and Rs. 1,000, available on www.ncpamumbai.com
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Prachi Jawadekar Wagh