For fitness of body and soul, do kathak yoga
Move over monotonous fitness regimes. US-based kathak maestro Chitresh Das has been popularising the concept of `kathak yoga`, which he describes as a "union between the mind, body and soul" and an excellent "form of a cardio-vascular exercise".
Based on the concept of "innovation within tradition", Das has explored the boundaries of kathak technique and performance and come up with kathak yoga in which a dancer recites a chosen `tala` (rhythmic structure), sings the melody and the `theka` (language of the drum) of the tala, while practising precise complicated footwork.
The technique is also being studied as a doctoral dissertation at Harvard University.
"It`s a union between the mind, body and soul in which the dancer recites one thing and dances something completely different, and adding an instrument as well. It`s a form of cardio-vascular exercise," said Das, who was in the capital, in an interview.
"This form of dance is inspired by sadhus and rishis on the banks of the Ganga. It is a very focussed form of art that requires a lot of concentration and rhythmic synchronization of mind and body. Based on the concept of organic mathematics, this art form requires endurance, stamina and focus," he explained.
Das has been running The Chitresh Das Dance Company (CDDC) in San Francisco since 1980 and developed the unique fitness-cum-dance technique over the years.
He has now opened branches of his dance company in Kolkata and Mumbai as well. Dedicated to the preservation, promotion and education of kathak dance and Indian culture, CDDC has branches in Boston, Japan and Canada too, according to his website.
The 65-year-old dancer is based in California and has been performing since the age of 11. He shuttles between California, Mumbai and Kolkata to change the perception of people who consider kathak very "boring".
"People have this misconception that Indian classical art forms are very boring. This is completely wrong. A lot depends on how you perform and the way you perform without diluting art," Das said.
"Another important thing is that there is a dire need to create an educated audience for such classical art forms who can appreciate it. This has to be done from the very beginning, while they are kids," he added.
With people getting influenced more by Western dance forms like jazz, salsa and ballet, the dance exponent says a lot of damage has been done to Indian classical forms that need years of learning and dedication due to the choreography business.
"These days, every second person learns a dance form and calls himself a choreographer and starts the business of teaching people. There is no criteria, no accountability in this field," Das held.
"To be a guru, one has to have basic study for a minimum of 15-20 years. Then you go and explore the possibilities of teaching people for five-six years. So a person has to take a minimum of 30 years to call himself a guru. This word is losing its importance," he said.
According to Das, the sole mantra for success in this field is to focus on `riyaz` (practice) and `mehnat` (hard work).
"Kathak is a story-telling way where you explore a lot of mythological characters like Draupadi, Shakuni, Bheem. So you are exploring different characters in one story," said Das.
"To master this dance form, one has to be perfect in `tayyari` (preparation), `layakari` (rhythms), `khoobsurti` (beauty) and `nazaakat` (etiquettes) and practice with feelings...the end result will be very fruitful," he added.