A dance revolution: Two for the road 

What do you get when you combine classical Indian dance and American tap? A jubilant explosion of sound.

On Saturday, Indian Kathak dance master Pandit Chitresh Das and American tap dance phenom Jason Samuels Smith team up to present “India Jazz Suites,” part of the Chitresh Das Dance Company’s 30th anniversary celebration gala.

The performance heralds a collaboration that, since their first match-up in 2005, has received wildly enthusiastic response from audiences here and abroad.

From — literally — opposite ends of the earth, the 65-year-old Das and the 29-year-old Smith are in the vanguard of a dance revolution that mirrors the world beat music upsurge of the 1980s.

Both child prodigies trained by dancer-parents, they have earned almost every kind of award, fellowship and accolade possible in their respective dance fields.

Das, first invited to the U.S. as a dance instructor by Ali Akbar Khan for his Marin College of Music, has established a Bay Area-wide dance program and has re-invigorated classical Kathak dance throughout India.

Smith, recognized at an early age by the late tap icon Gregory Hines as “possibly the next great,” is an Emmy Award-winning choreographer and star of several Broadway productions including “Bring in Da’ Noise, Bring in Da’ Funk” and was recently introduced to a wider U.S. audience through a guest performance last season on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“I had always wanted to dance with Hines, which never happened,” says Das. “After having met Jason, I have no regrets.”

In “Suites,” the sprightly Das and the young New York tapper engage in a series of chugs, stamps, stomps and head-spinning twirls that climax in a kind of “can you top this” counterpoint, drawing upon a tradition found in both forms.

In Kathak, it is based upon “upaj”: improvisation or innovation within tradition. (“Upaj” is also the title of an up-coming documentary that chronicles their collaboration.)

In the jazz vernacular it is known as “trading eights”: one performer executes an eight-bar (or four-bar) “break” and the next does the same, trying to match or out-do the first. It becomes a kind of dueling scat singing of the feet, accompanied by jazz and classical Indian music ensembles.

For Smith, the presentation represents an opportunity to expand: “Tap is actually slang language, with new elements being added to the arsenal all the time,” he says.

With ankle bells and metal taps, “India Jazz Suites” makes a joyful noise.


India Jazz Suites

Presented by Chitresh Das Dance Company

Where: Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $35 to $75

Contact: (415) 333-9000; www.cityboxoffice.com; www.kathak.org

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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