Indian-American Kathak Maestro Pandit Chitresh Das Dies at 70

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Washington:  Pandit Chitresh Das, one of the most influential Indian classical artists who was instrumental in popularising the Kathank dance form in the US, died of acute aortic dissection in Marin County in North San Francisco on January 4.

He was schooled in Kathak since he was nine by his guru Pandit Ram Narayan Misra.

His career in India was launched when he was invited by Ravi Shankar to dance at the first Rimpa Festival in Varanasi.

In 1980, he founded the Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandam School of Kathak in San Francisco and is now recognised as the largest Indian classical dance school in North America.

"His contribution to Kathak, to dance, to art, to India, to community, to humanity, and to life stretch across the globe and beyond," the school said in a statement.

"In his words, 'Life and death are the only reality. You come alone, you go alone. Only thing to do in between is practice and do whatever you do with love'," it said.

Pandit Das maintained a vigorous performing schedule at the academy. The school now has its affiliates worldwide. In 1970, he received a Whitney Fellowship through the University of Maryland to teach Kathak, and the following year Ali Akbar Khan invited him to be an instructor at the Ali Akbar College of Music in California.

Pandit Das learned both the percussive and sensual elements of Kathak, including the solo tradition in which a dancer is required to go on stage without any prior rehearsal and execute improvised rhythms, compositions, and storytelling for two to three hours.

"It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of 2009 National Heritage Fellow Pandit Chitresh Das, Kathak dancer, choreographer, and educator from San Francisco, California," the endowment said in a statement.

Pandit Das is survived by his wife, Celine, his two daughters, Shivaranjani and Saadhvi. 

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