By Rupal Shah
Seibi Lee, Chitresh Dance Company principal dancer, senior teacher, and co-director of the Chhandam School of Kathak, has been accepted for the position of Artist-in-Residence, a year-long program at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center in Oakland, California, from October 2012-October 2013. This exciting opportunity will incorporate lecture/demonstrations, a four-week introductory class session, and a number of performances throughout 2013, including the Harvest Moon Festival and a full traditional kathak solo. During this time, she will also focus on the creation of a new work, Houyi and Chang’e, an ancient Chinese story told through the North Indian classical dance form of kathak. This new work will be performed at least twice as a solo.
Houyi and Chang’e brings together certain aspects of Seibi’s life: her in-depth training as a kathak dancer and western classical musician, and her Asian background and cultural heritage. This new work will essentially remain true to the kathak tradition and Seibi will be working under the guidance of Pt. Das. The newly composed music will maintain traditional rhythmic structures and taal, while integrating instruments of both cultures, including the Indian instruments sitar and tabla, and the Chinese melodic instruments ehru and ghuzheng.
Where this new work will diverge from kathak is in the story itself. Traditionally, kathak involves various stories within the Indian epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana, and other tales of Hindu gods and goddesses. For her new work, Seibi spent time delving into Chinese mythology and folklore, the importance of the moon, and the lunar calendar. In particular, the tale of Houyi and Chang’e was significant.
“There are some strong recurring motifs that appear in ageless stories, such as those in the Mahabharata, that are also reflected in the story of Houyi and Chang’e. Both contain lessons about actions and consequences — loss that can result from acting without thinking things through — and a yearning to return to the place you lost. What you achieve depends on the choices you make in the course of your life,” Seibi explains. “These are themes that I felt would translate well into the storytelling aspect of kathak.”
“The desire to explore my own cultural heritage has deepened over many years of studying kathak with Pandit Chitresh Das. Guruji (Pandit Das) challenges us to respect and explore each of our own unique cultural histories. When I was growing up, I didn’t identify very strongly with my Asian heritage because there was no community around me. The irony is that in embracing a dance form from another culture, I am finding ways to pay homage to my own rich heritage.”
For Seibi to be able to take kathak in this direction means that she must first be established and anchored within the tradition. She spent many years working toward that through the innovative teaching and formidable training of Pt. Das. The core of that entails a deep understanding of rhythm and timing within the framework of kathak; a command of kathak’s nuances and subtleties; strength and stamina built over engaged daily practice sessions and intense training with Pt. Das; extensive knowledge of the history of kathak and its influences; and self-discovery — development of abhinaya (dramatic aspects of kathak) and her individualized style within the tradition as well as an introspective self-exploration.
“Guruji sees each student’s potential, regardless of who they are or where they come from. His ability to challenge each one of us as kathak dancers while seeing our unique strengths and weaknesses is unparalleled. At the same time, he encourages each of us to be connected to our own heritage, whatever that may be.”
This residency and the process of creating her new work not only provides Seibi with a tremendous opportunity to connect kathak with her identity as an Asian American, it also opens doors that can lead to stronger cultural connections and understanding between two communities that may not necessarily have – or take — opportunities to do so otherwise.
“Seibi has graced the Oakland Asian Cultural Center with her performances on many occasions and through this residency project, will be able to connect our audiences with both Chinese mythology and South Asian artistry,” said Herna Cruz-Louie, Program Manager at Oakland Asian Cultural Center.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
FREE for all ages and levels
REGISTER ONLINE: www.oacc.cc/programs/classes/register.html
Thursdays, January 17 – February 14, 2013
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Registration begins December 1, 2012
Seibi will give a short introductory series of kathak classes starting Thursday, January 17, 2013. This is a five- week series of 1.5-hour classes during which the students learn the basic footwork and movements of kathak. The workshop will culminate in a short performance opportunity at OACC’s Lunar New Year Festival, Saturday, February 16, 2013.
To learn more about Seibi’s residency, classes and workshops, visit http://www.oacc.cc/programs/artist-in-residence.html