Chitresh Das

North Indian Kathak

Chitresh Das (1944-2015) began studying Kathak dance at age nine with Pandit Ram Narayan Misra in Calcutta, India.  He trained in both major Kathak traditions, learning the graceful style of the Lucknow school and the dynamic and powerful rhythms of the Jaipur school.  Chitresh was raised in his parents’ dance school, Nrittya Bharati, a center of cultural activity in Calcutta, visited by dancers, musicians, poets, authors and philosophers.  His performing career was launched in India when Pandit Ravi Shankar invited him to perform in the first Rimpa Festival in Benares.  In 1971, Chitresh was brought to the University of Maryland to teach Kathak on a Whitney Fellowship.  He arrived in California at the behest of the late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan to teach Kathak dance.  His own school in San Francisco, the Chhandam School of Kathak Dance, which was founded in 1980, is now the largest Indian classical dance school in North America.  In 2002, he re-established his parents’ institution, Nritya Bharati, in Calcutta, India.  Chitresh continued to perform and teach internationally, touring solo and with his dance ensemble, the Chitresh Das Dance Company, until his death in 2015.

Master North Indian Kathak dancer Chitresh Das

Kathak is among the major classical dance forms of India.  The Hindi word kathak is derived from katha, which means “story.”  In medieval times, hereditary professionals called kathakas rendered religious epics.  They mimed and sang the great Indian epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana in vernacular languages for the edification of local populations as a form of religious expression of devotion to Hindu gods.  After Muslim and Mogul rulers created the culture of the Islamic court in north India, Kathak moved out of the temples and became a form of courtly entertainment, diverging in style from other classical Indian dance forms with more elaborate footwork, intricate rhythmic exhibitions, and rapid, graceful pirouettes.

Chitresh participated as a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program four times, in 2013, 2009, 2007, and 2000, with apprentices Rachna Nivas, Jaiwanti Das Pamnani, Farah Yasmeen Shaikh, and Rina Mehta, respectively.  In each of his apprenticeships, Chitresh focused on Kathak as a solo form, with an emphasis on the technique, improvisation, and stamina necessary to perform a two-hour solo Kathak concert.

The following video features Chitresh’s 2009 apprentice, Rina Mehta, in a solo presentation culminating her apprenticeship with Chitresh:

Select Performances

Ramakrishna Mission, Broadcast nationally on Indian television, Kolkata, India, January 12, 2005

Kathak performance broadcast on BBC, January 2005

International Kathak Festival, Chicago, Illinois, October 10, 2004

American Dance Festival, Durham, North Carolina, July 1-3, 2004

National Kathak Festival organized by Kathak Kendra, New Delhi, India, October 29, 2004

Select Accomplishments

National Heritage Fellow, National Endowment for the Arts, 2009

Dance Icon of the West, San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, 2005

Lifetime Achievement Award, San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, 2004

Irvine Fellowship in Dance from the James Irvine Foundation, 2001

ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program, Master Artist, 2000

ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program, Master Artist, 2007

ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program, Master Artist, 2009

ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program, Master Artist, 2013

Selected to teach at the West Bengal State Academy, West Bengal, India, for two consecutive years

Selected to represent the state of West Bengal in performances throughout India

Teaching Experience

Taught in Kolkata, Barrackpore, Coimbatore, Pune, Narendrapur, New Delhi, and Mumbai (at a boy’s orphan home), India, 2005

Founder and Director, Chhandam Nritya Bharati Institute of Dance, Music & Fine Arts, Kolkata, India, established 2002

Established first University accredited course in Kathak at San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California, 1988-present

Founder and Director, Chhandam School of Kathak Dance, San Francisco, California, 1980-present

Taught annual intensives and workshops, Chhandika Institute of Kathak, Boston, Massachusettes, founded & directed by disciple Gretchen Hayden


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