Epic Tale from the Ancient Indian Ramayan Takes Flight in San Francisco

 (Photo: Courtesy of the Leela Dance Collective)

Kathak is one of eight distinct dance forms from ancient India, and it's characterized by very fast footwork, complex rhythms, lightening speed pirouettes and improvised play with musicians.

The story of Kathak coming to the United States owes a lot to a teacher named Chitresh Das. Das arrived here in 1971 and taught legions of enthusiastic Americans about the classical dance form native to Northern India.

The Leela Dance Collective formed shortly after Das died in 2015, and today, it continues to educate new dancers and entertain the public with works like Son of the Wind, which gets its San Francisco premiere this month at the ODC Theater, presented by the Chhandam School of Kathak.

Rachna Nivas, artistic director of the group along with Seibi Lee and Rina Mehta, says the piece is a family friendly emotional roller coaster. "It’s a great way to see every emotion possible from hate to greed fury honor jealousy to love all timeless concepts."

Son of the Wind, she says, also showcases the legacy of Chitresh Das.

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The story comes from the epic Ramayan, focused on the character of Hanuman. Son of the celestial female spirit, Anjana and Vayu, the mighty wind god, Hanuman rescues the kidnapped princess Sita, thanks to his mischievous ingenuity and indomitable vigor. Ultimately, his actions lead to Ram, King of Ayodha, to prevail over the arrogant and powerful King of Lanka, Ravan.

The Collective introduces a little gender fluidity into the classical tale by featuring a cast of all-female Kathak dancers, even in the roles of male warriors. The choreographers are also women.

Diversity and inclusion was "very much part of the mission of our teacher," says Nivas. "Many of [Das's] disciples are from different backgrounds, and we are carrying it forward in that way as well."

Nivas also noted that the inclusion extends not just to gender, but ethnicity as well. The dancers come from all over the country, and they're not all Indian

Son of the Wind runs April 27-28 at the ODC Theatre in San Francisco. Details here.

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