Kathak and tap dance aren’t quite peanut butter and jelly, but in India Jazz Suites, Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith spread them together into one unique blend. Smith, a 29-year-old African American, Emmy Award-winner, and Sesame Street guest performer, hails from New York City, and the 65-year-old Kathak Master Das was born and raised in Calcutta. Smith joins his toe tapping rhythms with Das’ ability to slice powerfully through time and space, and, over the evening, the two men cross age, background, and style barriers.

What: Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith in India Jazz Suites
Where: Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon Street , San Francisco
When: Saturday, March 20, 2010, 6PM
Tickets: Performance-only tickets: $35 and up; Performance and gala tickets: $200 and up. Purchase online or via 415-333-9000

India Jazz Suites, originally premiering in 2005, returns to the stage at the Palace of Fine Arts this weekend as part of the Chitresh Das Dance Company’s 30th Anniversary Gala, so here in San Francisco, this is a one-night-only event, folks. If you want to see this eclectic combination, get your butts up there! And yes, performance-only tickets are available.

Ahead of this weekend, Das was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Becca Hirschman: How did you two [you and Jason Samuels Smith] meet and what prompted this collaboration?

Chitresh Das: We met several years ago while practicing backstage at the American Dance Festival at Duke University. I started to dance and Jason said. “How can you do that with your bare feet?”

What was the creative process like? Were there disagreements or times where you didn’t see “eye to eye”?

We created a structure for the performance. We choose a specific rhythmical cycle and timing, and we improvise and create within that structure. The improvisation takes a tremendous amount of concentration–there is no such thing as disagreements because on the stage we are one.

Since the premiere in 2005, have you modified the work?

It has evolved. It is never the same performance twice. Although we have our structure in place the nature of improvisation is such that anything can happen on the stage. After touring and working for several years with the Indian classical musicians, Jason better understands the complicated mathematical rhythms of India; thus he and I are able to create more freely on the stage.

Tap dancing and Kathak dance are each uniquely different, yet both are grounded in rhythm. Would you talk a little about how the two forms compliment each other?

Each form has the use of the feet in common. Jason wears metal tap shoes, and I wear 4-6 lbs. of bells wrapped around my ankle and use my bare feet. The rhythms of 4, 7, or 8 are universal. It is always challenging–the tap shoes are loud–it is very difficult, but I try to produce the same sound with the slap of my foot while playing my tabla, singing, and dancing as Jason produces with his taps.

How has your involvement in “India Jazz Suites” influenced your other work?

Jason is fast and strong. What the Indian tabla player does with his hands Jason is able to do with his feet. Working with Jason has increased my stamina. The collaboration has helped to bring American tap and jazz to the Indian Community in India and abroad and the awareness of Kathak to the tap community–it has opened each world to the other, and in this way the performance serves as a cultural bridge between the two communities.

Are there other collaborations, either together or separately, in your future?

Most definitely. In 2007, we expanded the collaboration to include the company members of each respective art form in India Jazz Progressions. Next we want to include our pre-professional youth company with students from age 8 to 18 and the children and youth of the tap world.

India Jazz Suites can next be seen in Boston (May 1-2 at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston); Ogden, Utah (May 8 at the Egyptian Theater); and Houston (May 21 at the Wortham Center).

the author

Becca Klarin writes about dance. Her first stage role was at the age of four, where she dressed in a brightly colored bumble bee tutu and black patent leather taps shoes. She remembers bright lights and spinning in circles with her eleven other bees, but nothing more. Becca also has an affinity for things beginning with the letter "P", including Pizzetta 211, Fort Point, pilates, parsvakonasana, and plies.

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