Following the phenomenal success of his collaboration with tap superstar Jason Samuels Smith, Bay Area-based Indian kathak dance master Pandit Chitresh Das celebrates his 70th birthday with a new cross-continental collaboration.
Antonio Hidalgo Paz, choreographer and principal dancer with Flamenco Vivo Carlotta Santana, joins him in “Yatra: Journey from India to Spain” at the Palace of Fine Arts in The City this weekend.
The Hindi word yatra means journey, and in this piece it refers to the migration of the kathak Indian dance tradition (via what are now known as gypsies) from the Indian desert state of Rajasthan to Spain. But it also suggests how similar rhythms and movements have been interpreted by individual cultures over time.
Paz, whose formal training involved learning about the different styles, including kathak, that influenced flamenco, says, “The similarities are easy to see: the use of percussive footwork in the dances, the expressions and some of the body poses … also, the improvisations and the way that we interact with the musicians.”
Das, meanwhile, says he has been fascinated by flamenco since he was 14, after seeing Jose Greco perform in “Around the World in 80 Days.”
The two artists first met in 2004 and discussed working together and met again in 2012 and decided to actually make something happen. Their collaboration finally took form in a recent tour through India, including a performance in Kolkata, Das’ birthplace.
“Oh, it was fantastic!” says Das, “The governor of West Bengal came.”
In Delhi, they were joined by many of India’s famed musicians and kathak dancers. But Goa, a former Portuguese colony, was a particular highlight.
“Lots of Spaniards from Europe were there, and the Goanese culture is still quite Portuguese, so it was an incredible exchange,” Das adds.
As with many dance forms, kathak and flamenco both are story-based. The Indian traditional dances are based on the Mahabharata and Ramayana, ancient Sanskrit epics. Song lyrics accompanying flamenco are based on prose poems about the struggles of the Jews and Moors during the Inquisition.
“Every ancient culture has storytellers. The kathakas would travel from town to town telling stories from the greatest epics. Now we have the stage and television; the difference is now our storytellers are traveling on jumbo jets,” says Das.
IF YOU GO
Yatra: Journey from India to Spain
Where: Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $28 to $58
Contact: (415) 333.9000, www.kathak.org
Note: A pre-show gala event, at extra cost, accompanies Saturday’s performance.