In the wake of legendary kathak master Pt. Chitresh Das' passing, a handful of his senior disciples came together to discuss how to move forward his legacy and the rich art form of kathak. What emerged from that dialoge is The Leela Dance Collective, a home for those artists seeking to develop their individual creative voices while working collaboratively to forward a collective vision for kathak dance.
Rina Mehta began studying Kathak under internationally renowned Kathak master and guru, Pandit Chitresh Das in 2000. Since joining the Chitresh Das Dance Company shortly after, she has performed in such critically-acclaimed productions such as Pancha Jati, Shabd, and Sita Haran. She has received the Alliance for California Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant and twice been nominated for an Isodara Duncan Dance Award for Company performance as part of the Chitresh Das Dance Company. She has performed as a soloist and with the company at such prestigious venues/festivals nationally and in India as REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theater), Meany Hall for Performing Arts (University of Washington), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, UCLA’s World Festival of Sacred Music, National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai, and the Shaniwarwada Dance Festival in Pune. Rina Mehta’s original works include Chandanbala, the classic Jain story interpreted through the Kathak tradition and Speak, a collaboration with Rachna Nivas (kathak) and tap dancers Michelle Dorrance and Dormeisha Sumbry-Edwards.
Rina is the Executive Producer of UPAJ, a documentary on Pt. Chitresh Das’ groundbreaking collaboration with tap star Jason Samuels Smith, India Jazz Suites.
Rina Mehta is a 2013 Fulbright Scholar in Kathak dance. She received her Bachelor of Arts in immunology and her Masters in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley.
Seibi Lee is a dynamic Kathak artist known for her exceptional mastery, sophisticated musicality, and dramatic brilliance. Currently, Seibi is Co-Artistic Director and principal soloist with the Chitresh Das Dance Company and senior instructor at Chhandam School of Kathak. She is a leading disciple of the iconic Kathak legend Pandit Chitresh Das. Seibi has toured around the world earning great respect and accolades for her virtuosic character roles including the demon Marich and the beloved monkey prince Hanuman in Das’s critically-acclaimed, Sita Haran. Most recently, she electrified audiences with her fierce portrayal of the Guru in Das’s Shiva. Seibi has evolved to create her own unique and compelling expression of this significant art form and has mesmerized audiences with her unique solo creation Houyi and Chang’e, a heart-rending tale of great heroism and of star crossed lovers.
Rachna Nivas is a leader in Indian classical dance, bringing a relevant and crucial voice to kathak. She was principal dancer at the Chitresh Das Dance Company for 15 years, performing in award winning productions throughout the U.S. and India, receiving two nominations for an Isadora Duncan Dance Award. Deemed “charismatic” and “revelatory” as a soloist by the San Francisco Chronicle, Rachna is a fierce and passionate performer. As former Director of the legendary master Pandit Chitresh Das’ academy, she was instrumental in building a premiere arts training institution. Today, she is a senior artist and leader at the Leela Institute for the Arts and is one of the most sought-after teachers in kathak dance. She performs and teaches around the world, splitting her time between San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Mumbai, India. As an arts advocate, Rachna is also dedicated to raising awareness of the rich history and philosophy of India through kathak, and for it to be a tool for empowerment and social justice. She is currently touring her latest collaborative work SPEAK, bringing together leading women in kathak and tap - a cross-cultural expression of identity, gender, race, and heritage.
Dr. Sarah Morelli (Harvard Ph.D. 2007) is a tenured Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music where she also serves as Chair of the Department of Musicology, Ethnomusicology and Theory. Active as both a scholar and performer, she has studied the performing arts of India since 1992. Sarah trained in Hindustani music with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (vocal music and the sarod) and has also learned from his disciples Pandit Rajeev Taranath, Dr. George Ruckert and Steve Oda. Sarah also trained with the renowned North Indian Kathak dance master, Pandit Chitresh Das and his disciple Gretchen Hayden. Her forthcoming book, Tales of a Modern Guru: Pandit Chitresh Das and Indian Classical Dance in Diaspora (University of Illinois Press, forthcoming), is an ethnographic account of Pandit Das’s dance company and school, and his contributions to kathak dance. She is also preparing a volume titled Music and Dance as Everyday Life in South Asia with co-editor Dr. Zoe Sherinian (University of Oklahoma). An active member of the Society for Ethnomusicology, Sarah currently serves as Local Arrangements Chair for the 2017 national conference; she presents at several societies’ national and international conferences and has published in various journals and edited volumes.
Shefali Jain is an emerging force in the field of Kathak. She has trained for over 12 years with Gretchen Hayden and the world renowned Kathak maestro, Pandit Chitresh Das. Shefali has performed extensively as a soloist and member of the Chhandika dance ensemble, most recently debuting in a full-length evening solo. She is also an apprentice of the Chitresh Das Dance Company, performing in its acclaimed productions of Sita Haran and Shiva. In addition to performing, Shefali is also committed to passing on the rich tradition of Kathak to the next generations. She has taught Kathak classes at Yale University and is now teaching at the Chhandika Institute of Kathak Dance as a senior instructor and founder and co-director of the Chhandika Youth Ensemble.