26 Jan 2012
Their eyes meet and as soon as the rhythm follows, you witness a sudden rupture of energy and power and an interplay of complex taal pattern. A two-minute jig between eminent Kathak dancer Pandit Chitresh Das and tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith leaves you spellbound wanting for more.
In the sprawling living room of an apartment, which faces the sea in a Mumbai high-rise, Das and Smith give you a glimpse of what could be nothing less than a power-packed performance in their production “Fastest Feet in Rhythm” at the National Centre for Performing Arts on January 26. It’s not difficult to miss their chemistry, and sheer spontaneity with which they present. Das, also well-known for his innovation of the concept of Kathak Yoga, (an integration of the heart, mind, body and soul) says that the absolute energy is the core essence of this production.
“There’s energy, force, power almost like brute force between two warriors. The energy that emanates from the production reaches out to the audience and that is the real shakti,” says Das. With Kathak and tap dance, what may seem like two different styles, come together on one stage by the commonality of rhythm. “It’s beautiful to see two cultures merge and spread happiness to people. There has to be the willingness, desire to do something different. We took a risk with this by coming out of our comfort zones and doing something within the framework of our respective traditions. Everything we do is in the purest form of our styles,” says Das. Jason adds that there’s a healthy competitive edge to them on stage, but not where we want to finish each other on stage. “It’s a healthy co-existence on stage where we simply understand each other and don’t tread each other’s path,” says Jason.
It’s mind boggling to see the sync between them, which again reflects a deep sense of understanding and maturity in each other’s cultures and sensibilities. Jason says the almost seven-year-long production has helped him understand Indian sensibilities in a much better way. “I was around 24 when I first Guruji perform on stage and I was blown away. It was like ‘I have to see what this is about’ and I wanted to know more about the dance. Things just fell in place and I was fortunate enough to collaborate with him. I realised I needed more freedom and the need to express myself on stage,” says Jason. “In the beginning it was a little new, but now it’s spontaneous and anything happens on stage,” he adds.
Das raves about Jason like his younger brother and gives him the credit for having understood the dynamics of the production so well. “He is extremely street savvy and is so busy otherwise. He’s teaching, conceptualising and travelling and always manages to give time to this production. Whenever I look at him, I’m reminded of my days as a young man in Kolkata. I grew up like him the way he did in New York,” says Das.
Moving onto to the topic of dance and the various issues around it, both Das and Jason rue about the fact that emerging dancers don’t take enough of risks and live in a world of instant results. “More than looking for instant fame, we need to look out to create new vocabulary in dance People don’t take time to study the vocabulary and theory of dance. You are not just following plain tradition; you should be able to do something about it. Every step has a feeling, a thought. A lot of popular dance styles are just in the video and Internet culture. People don’t know what anything of it means anymore. It’s a little sad, but we are fighting a different battle,” reflects Jason. Das agrees in unison and says that considering the Indian diaspora is so varied, dancers should go all out to learn, imbibe and motivate themselves. “The Indian diaspora is going all over the world. What is my dharma towards dance? What is my duty towards children who are of Indian origin in the US? After questioning myself years ago I learnt and relearnt how to teach children. In the process I have preserved Indian tradition and shown them the modern world. Performance is important but according to the principles we have set for our dance company. We tell parents who want their children to dance in first row to take them back. It’s about first dedicating you to the art and then looking at the other things. In fact I am appalled that people have labeled me as someone from the West. I have two classes here in Mumbai and Kolkata and five in the US. This wrong perception of me has somehow spread. I have been actively present in both the countries,” says Das.
With respect to humanity and tradition, Das says that he doesn’t like being addressed as Pandit and his feet touched. “I don’t like to call myself a Pandit. Everyone around these days call themselves that. I have earned the real “Pandit” (expertise) through knowledge, practice, but if some kids these days half my age call themselves pandit, then why should I call pandit. Just call me Chitresh Das. Actually it was the Harvard University who decided to call me Pandit. They decided to do research on my concept of Kathak Yoga. I was uncomfortable with the title and yet am,” says Das.
Jason says that it’s time to do away with labels and titles if one has to go beyond them. Does dance get lost in the battle of titles and labels and egos? “Ego is a good thing if applied within the framework. But vanity is what is harmful. Ego can be a double-edged sword,” says Das. “If you are able to humble humanity, then you will be able to innovate,” adds Jason.