26 Jan 2012
"Everybody does fusion, illusion and confusion. We collaborate," says Kathak maestro Pandit Chitresh Das about his performance with Tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith. Dhara Vora chats up with the two dancers, on the occasion of the collaborative piece Fastest Feet in Rhythm
When did work on this collaboration begin?
Panditji: It didn't happen all of a sudden. I was a teenager and used to see all these Jazz greats. I had a very strong desire to dance to it. Once in the middle of the night I was watching the Nicholas Brothers. I just sat up mesmerised. I wanted to dance with another form of art and not compete with it. And then, by the divine grace of god we met at the American Dance Festival in 2004.
Smith: Tap dancing is the culture and history of America. Getting involved with Kathak, I realised that it has a lot in common with tap dancing. They even have the same problem of not being very popular with the youth. We weren't slated to dance together at the festival, but we encountered each other backstage. While I was practising, I heard the same rhythm of my steps being repeated by someone else but the sound was different. I wanted to know who was doing it. I wanted to join this rhythmic composition and towards the last show of the festival we got a chance to dance together. That was the beginning of our collaboration.
Panditji: My wife, Celine too played a part. She was the one who said, "Watch out for him." It's all about Riyaz and Mehnat (practise and hardwork) and you need to put in a lot of blood, love and tears. Smith once danced to the Mridangam and he did a great job.
Kathak dancer Pandit Chitresh Das and Tap dancer Jason
Samuels Smith doing an impromptu performance
How have your Riyaz sessions been so far?
Smith: We start with nothing. It's like a conversation. Once it starts we get a rhythm.
Panditji: Upaj is the word. It's all about improvisation. (And while saying this they break into an impromptu performance explaining how they need each other's rhythm). Though there is a main structure, we look into each other's eyes and we know what to do. Learning is like a journey from Karela to Rasmalai. It's difficult in the beginning, but when you finally get it the beat, dance and your mind become one; it is spiritual.
We heard that you also include Rap in your performances. How does that work in the big picture?
Smith: I used to rap since I was 13. Rapping was a like an expression for the oppressed community. I am an old school guy, when it was all about break-dancing on the street and rapping. It's very commercial now. Hip Hop has become dance music and I feel people will soon get bored of it. It's similar to some of the recent Bollywood music I have heard. I am sure there is better stuff as well but mostly the lyrics don't have any meaning. It's just like dancing at high energies throughout the song. There is no build-up.
Panditji: Like with the Black community over there, we have had the same struggle in India with the British. We thought of including rapping as an expression of his culture and our dance. It's like a conversation between two cultures.
What have you learnt from each other?
Panditji: I've learnt to keep on learning and accept every challenge. It keeps the fire in me alive.