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Festival of North Indian Classical Music and Dance at Z Space

April 2, 2019

Kathak, a major form of Indian classical music and dance, will be on a unique display at Continuum, a two-day festival, April 20–21, in Z Space, bringing together for the first time Bay Area artists with their peers from India and the U.S.

Kathak, in Sanskrit, means “story,” and performances tell stories in dance, songs, and music, similar to medieval troubadours in Europe. In fact, Kathak performers, called Kathakas or Kathakar, were traveling bards and the art form goes back to 400 B.C. Unlike troubadours, Kathak artists are very much of the present as well, acclaimed in Asia, Europe, and in the Bay Area.

Organized by local companies Chhandam School of Kathak (founded by Chitresh Das) and Leela Dance Collective (founded in the U.S. by Rachna Nivas, Rina Mehta, Seibi Lee, Sarah Morelli, and Shefali Jain.), the festival will feature artists of those organizations, along with a large group of visitors.

Joining San Francisco dancer Rachna Nivas and tabla player Nilan Chaudhuri will be sitarist Jayanta Banerjee from Kolkata; vocalist Samarth Nagarkar from New York; bansuri (flute) player Jay Gandhi from New York; Kathak dancers Seema Mehta from Mumbai, Sarah Morelli from Denver, and Shefali Jain from Boston, and others.

Continuum will have six double-bill concerts, of a music solo and a kathak dance solo, with different solo instrument in each show, such as sitar, violin, bansuri (Indian flute), and tabla.

Rina Mehta, an artistic leader of Chhandam and founding artist of Leela Dance Collective, says “Increasingly we have been seeing Indian classical music and dance being presented in short-form or ensemble work, positioning it for changing audiences and a Western framework. 

“We feel it is crucial at this moment in time that audiences experience these art forms in their raw and unadulterated form. The tour-de-force solo is the only platform that displays the full depth and breadth of these forms — everything from its connection to ancient Indian philosophies to its musical and rhythmic sophistication to its dynamic and playful improvisation with live musicians.”

Explaining the name of the festival, Rachna Nivas, prominent in both Chhandam and Leela Dance Collective, says “The great masters of our elders’ generation are leaving us every day. Artists like the Late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Chitresh Das, and many others planted deep seeds in the West, especially the Bay Area, for Indian classical art to flourish.

“With this festival we wanted to highlight the next generation of artists who those very masters have passed the torch to and who are now bravely blazing new frontiers. We want to show that these legacies are more than just surviving — they are relevant, vibrant, and in an important moment of flux. Hence we chose the name ‘Continuum.’”

Corrections: The festival dates have been updated due to visa issues. It will now run April 20 and 21. As originally published, the story incorrectly identified the founders of Leela Dance. It was founded in the U.S. by Rachna Nivas, Rina Mehta, Seibi Lee, Sarah Morelli, and Shefali Jain.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].