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In the News > Dance Review: Chitresh Das, Jason Samuels Smith: India Jazz Suites

5 Nov 2005


Dance Review: Chitresh Das, Jason Samuels Smith: India Jazz Suites

Chitresh Das & Jason Samuels Smith: India Jazz Suites

Nov 11, 2005



Jason Samuels Smith, Photo by Carl McClarty and Pandit Chitresh Das, Photo by Marty Sohl.   

Alone, they’re captivating. Together, they’re magic. And if the magic takes a while to settle in, patience is still a virtue. India Jazz Suites, which Thursday evening (Nov. 10) opened a too-brief run at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater unites Marin County-based Pandit Chitresh Das, an acknowledged master of the Indian dance form, kathak, with Los Angeles-based Jason Samuels Smith, one of the brilliant young talents reanimating the art of tap dancing. The two suffice to carry the show. Who would ever want more?

Fusion means confusion, claims Smith in a beguiling rap monologue, and, true enough, these two forms of movement artistry remain distinct in this two-hour show featuring the two dancers, the Marcus Shelby Trio and a quartet of fine Indian classical musicians. The instrumentalists are arrayed on bandstands on opposite sides of the stage throughout the evening.

The project began as an idea when Das and Smith met at the American Dance Festival last year. At the time, each was struck by the other’s facility at generating percussive music from their limbs. Both, of course, were propelled and inspired by the accompanying music of their respective cultures, When, in a fascinating jam session in the second part of the program, Smith performs to music by the Indian consort (adopting Western modes and scales) and Das takes off to the sounds of the splendid Shelby Trio, the sparks fly.
                                                                                                    Continued on reverse…
Das plays drums and Smith picks up the rhythm. Das utters those syllables ("tika-tika-tak") called bols and Smith transfers their pulse to his feet. Das looks for the beat from the Shelby Trio and finds something that energizes him. You watch the two dancers processing the sounds and allowing them to spread through their limbs, capitalizing in their strengths. Das spins more dramatically than Smith. Smith is more adept at dynamics. The performers don’t really dance together, but the parallel monologues are marvelously revealing. There’s a sense of discovery here, as much for the performers as for their audience.

The whole presentation is a bit shaggy; and if the rumors are true, that a tour is in the offing, a bit of streamlining is to be expected when the pair get together again. In a brief prologue, Das and Smith casually introduce themselves and attempt to recreate their first meeting. Then, the solos, starting with Smith’s Freedom, danced to Cole Porter’s "What is this thing called love?" Smith, who is not familiar to Bay Area audiences, is a wonder. In the wake if Savion Glover’s visit to Marin last week, Smith will seem, to some, a more conventional performer. Unlike Glover, he favors a relaxed upper body and arms, he is more-audience directed, more the conventional charmer and perhaps, less self-absorbed. But Smith is also gifted with an extraordinary musical imagination; the Porter song, with its awesome range in dynamics, evolves into a true collaboration.
In his solo spot, Das delivers a mini-dance drama about Princess Shakuntala, Prince Dushanta and a bee, eyes darting, fingers eloquently fluttering. Later, in "Invocation of the Gurus," Das illustrates the evolution within tradition of the kathak style, melding movement and rhythmic vocalization. The number, called "The Train," finds the performer chugging across the stage like the Delhi Express. Das has been called a Bay Area treasure for so long he has virtually retired the title.

So, consider the above words on India Jazz Suites a hearty endorsement; it continues through Saturday at 8 p.m...    

Allan Ulrich