By Rupal Shah
Rina Mehta, Director of the Los Angeles branch of Chhandam and a member of the San Francisco-based Chitresh Das Dance Company, recently traveled to Toronto and Boston for a series of workshops, lecture-demonstrations and a solo performance.
As part of TIKAT, Toronto International Kathak and Tabla Week, Rina held a lecture-demonstration, within a three-part workshop series with Creative Director Joanna De Souza of MDO and Artistic Director and Composer Ritesh Das of Toronto Tabla Ensemble. The first was a tabla recitation workshop; the second was a kathak workshop; and the third was a combined tabla recitation and kathak workshop.
Rina’s Boston performance was presented in conjunction with Chhandika (Pandit Das’ additional school in Boston), headed by Artistic Director Gretchen Hayden, who studied intensively with Pt. Das in the 1970s.
Both of these experiences provided a wonderful opportunity to engage in a cultural and artistic exchange between Chhandam, and MDO, Chhandika, and Toronto Tabla Ensemble. “There is an international kathak community that has been established in these places, which made me realize that there is a place for kathak beyond what we think – there is a bigger market for what we are trying to do. Guruji laid the groundwork for that, and Gretchendi and Joannadi built these local communities based on what they learned from him. I can go there to perform and there is an audience for it,” said Rina.
Though all three artistic directors have Pt. Das’ influence and teachings in common, each has contributed much to the preservation and growth of kathak and Indian classical music in the U.S. and North America. “Joannadi, Gretchendi,and Riteshji have been working in Toronto and Boston for many years. Each has stayed true to his or her tradition and training, while exploring and creating. So the really exciting thing about the lecture-demonstration in Toronto was that it included a fairly educated audience in terms of what kathak is,” Rina said. “What is so inspiring for me is to see that level of awareness within their communities, to see what they’ve built essentially on their own.”
What seems most evident to everyone involved with this experience is that the need for dialogue and exchange between all is strong. “We are fundamentally from the same place, trying to work toward the same end. A lot is to be gained on all sides if we work together and seize opportunities to engage, encourage and support each other.”