Seema Mehta

Soloist

A born artist, Seema graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California, USA with Bachelors of Fine Art (BFA) specializing in painting and sculpture. She has been training under renowned Kathak maestro Pandit Chitresh Das since 2000 . Her lineage dates back to the great Gurus of the Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas. Seema’s style therefore strikes an admirable balance between the two styles, the subtle and graceful versus the warrior like vigour through powerful footwork and chakkars. Her performing career began in 2003 at the San Francisco State University. She is an expert practitioner and performer of Kathak Yoga- Chitresh Das’s innovation within the Kathak tradition. Seema performs Kathak Yoga by dancing complex compositions while singing and playing the harmonium. Seema is the Director of Chhandam Nritya Bharati-India where she teaches over 100 students in Mumbai and Kolkata. She has worked with the children of Kolkata’s red light areas, the New Light Project in particular empowering them through Kathak. She also teaches children from the Akanksha and SMILE Foundations in Mumbai. Going beyond the traditional preview of dance, Seema’s vision is to touch lives through her work. Seema is the Creative Director at Kirtilals.

Joanna Meinl

Soloist

Dance artist and educator, Joanna Meinl, began dancing in 1990 at Ballet Etudes in Miami, FL, training and performing ballet, jazz and hip-hop. Upon relocating to San Francisco, CA in 1995, she was introduced to Kathak, North Indian classical dance, at SFSU. She graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Dance Ethnology in 1999 and began her 20 year journey studying with legendary artist, Pandit Chitresh Das. As a performing member of the Chitresh Das Dance Company since 1998, Joanna has toured extensively throughout the U.S. and India as a soloist and with critically acclaimed productions such as Darbar, Pancha Jati, Sita Haran and Shiva. She is honored to continue her Guruji’s legacy, performing most recently with Leela Dance Collective in Son of the Wind. Joanna is also an avid arts educator. She has taught kathak, ballet, ballroom and creative dance in school and arts programs throughout the Bay Area for 18 years. From 2001-05 she also trained as a ballroom and latin dance instructor and then pursued competitive west coast swing. She is currently a champion level WCS dancer and performs, teaches and judges at events throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Cimeron Ahluwalia

Soloist

Dancer and arts advocate, Cimeron Ahluwalia, began her study of Kathak with the late Pandit Chitresh Das at San Francisco State University in 1998, where she assisted his two unit accredited course for over three years. It was at SFSU, where she found her profound appreciation of classical and contemporary art forms and went on to pursue a career in non-profits simultaneously to studying and teaching Kathak dance. Traveling both nationally and internationally to India with Pandit Das, she has performed with the Chitresh Das Dance Company in such productions as Sanpurnam, Sita Haran, Yatra, and Shiva. In 2012, she performed her first traditional Kathak solo in San Francisco. She is honored to continue the tradition, performing most recently with Leela Dance Collective in Son of the Wind. Alongside her performing career, Cimeron had the great opportunity to train directly under Pandit Das, assisting many of his high level classes. Since 2003, she has held positions as Branch Director and teacher in the Mountain View, San Francisco and most recently Fremont Branch of Chhandam School of Kathak Dance. Cimeron attributes has held high level fundraising positions with such organizations as San Francisco Opera, SFJAZZ, San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She attributes all of her opportunities in the art world to her love of Kathak and has been fortunate to integrate performances into each organization to educate and promote the art form.

Sarah Morelli

Founding Artist, Soloist

Founding Artist Dr. Sarah Morelli has studied India’s performing arts since 1992 and is active as a kathak performer, scholar, and educator. Her dance is infused with a rich musicality and deep understanding of kathak’s past and present. Sarah was blessed to train with two legendary artists: kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das and maestro Ali Akbar Khan (vocal music and the sarod), as well as their disciples Pt. Rajeev Taranath, Dr. George Ruckert, Gretchen Hayden and Steve Oda. She earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Ethnomusicology in 2007. Her academic work includes the forthcoming book Tales of a Modern Guru: Pandit Chitresh Das and Indian Classical Dance in Diaspora (University of Illinois Press), the seminal ethnographic study of Pandit Chitresh Das’s contributions to kathak. As Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Denver, she teaches courses examining the profound and varied connections between music, dance, and other aspects of human experience. Sarah is also founder of the Denver-based Sureela Academy of kathak, and a founding artist with the Leela Dance Collective. She regularly guest teaches at kathak schools around the U.S. and India, delivers academic presentations at international conferences, and publishes in academic journals and edited volumes.

Shefali Jain

Founding Artist, Soloist

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 fulllength evening solo. She is also an apprentice of the Chitresh Das Dance Company, performing in its acclaimed productions Sita Haran and Shiva. In addition to performing, Shefali teaches at the Chhandika Institute of Kathak Dance as a senior instructor and founder and co-director of the Chhandika Youth Ensemble.

Ahana Mukherjee

Ensemble Dancer

Ahana Mukherjee began studying kathak at the age of ten. She was a part of the inaugural Chhandam Youth Dance Company from 2001 through 2009. She performed extensively with the Youth Company in various prestigious venues including the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. While at UCLA for her bachelor’s degree, she joined Rina Mehta – founder of Leela Dance Institute – in both studying and teaching kathak. Upon returning to the bay area, she resumed her studies at Chhandam. She soon became a teacher for beginning level childrens’ classes. Meanwhile, she performed in several productions including Shiva and Son of the Wind. She is currently an assistant teacher for the Chitresh Das Youth Company in Fremont, CA.

Sonali Toppur

Ensemble Dancer

At the young age of four, Sonali Toppur began her study of Kathak. In 2003, she joined the Chhandam Youth Dance Company and trained directly under world-renowned Kathak maestro Pandit Chitresh Das for over ten years. As both an emerging soloist and performing member of the youth company, Sonali extensively performed at many prestigious venues and events including the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, the Kathak Conference in Chicago, and Deck the Halls at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall alongside the SF Symphony and the SF Ballet Trainee program. She has also regularly taught and assisted classes at the Chhandam School of Kathak since 2009. After graduating in 2016 from the University of Washington in Seattle with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, Sonali now works as a consulting actuarial analyst at Mercer. She is passionately dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of Pt. Das — most recently performing alongside the Leela Dance Collective in their production of Son of the Wind.

Ria DasGupta

Ensemble Dancer

Ria DasGupta is a junior dancer with the Leela Dance Collective. She trained in classical ballet and modern dance for 14 years with the Academy of Dance Arts in Red Bank, New Jersey before being introduced to the world of classical and Rabindrik Indian dance by Malabika Guha in the early 2000s. Since then, she studied Bharatanatyam under Chitra Venkateswaran and trained in capoeira and other Afro-Brazilian arts under the guidance of Contra Mestre Maranhão. In 2014, upon moving to the Bay Area, she began her study of kathak with Seibi Lee at Chhandam School of Kathak, where she is now a member of the teaching faculty. Ria performed internationally in Spain, India, and Bolivia and extensively in the US with Kalamandir Dance Company (KDC), a troupe that she co-founded in 2009. With KDC, she co-choreographed two evening length productions and several short pieces in which she also performed as a principal dancer. In 2017, she was honored to debut with Leela Dance Collective in their inaugural production of Son of the Wind. In addition to her ongoing study of kathak, Ria is a doctoral candidate in education at the University of San Francisco and a higher education administrator.

Joya Kazi

Ensemble Dancer

Joya Kazi is an LA-based professional Choreographer & Dancer and began her dance journey at the age of 4 studying Indian Classical Dances such as Odissi, Bharatanatyam and Kathak. She knew early on that she wanted to be a choreographer and continued her study of dance at UC Davis as a Theatre & Dance major. Upon moving to LA to pursue a commercial career, she has quickly earned TV, Film, and Commercial credits in both the Hollywood and Bollywood industries, but her love for Kathak helped her return to training in her classical roots with Rina Mehta at The Leela Academy in 2015. Since then Joya has participated in Leela's performance and education programs. Most recently, Joya joined the Leela Dance Collective as an ensemble member and performed in the San Francisco premiere of the Collective's acclaimed work, Son of the Wind.

Navneet Bal

Ensemble Dancer

Navneet Bal began studying Kathak under internationally renowned Kathak Master and Guru, Pandit Chitresh Das in 2005 at the Chhandam School of Kathak’s San Jose branch. She moved to Los Angeles four years later, where she continued her study of kathak under Das’ senior disciple, Rina Mehta, at The Leela Institute. In 2017, Navneet began performing with the Leela Dance Collective as a cast member of Son of the Wind. She has performed with the show at at The Green Music Center in Sonoma, CA (2017) and the ODC Theater in San Francisco, CA (2018) and is looking forward to touring with the show in Fall 2019. Navneet has also performed with the Leela Academy at prestigious venues across Southern California including the Irvine Barclay Theatre, Calabasas Performing Arts and Education Center, and the Dolby Theater. Navneet’s passion for Leela’s mission is also evident in her work as an educator. She regularly teachers classes at the Leela Academy and participates in the Leela Dance Collective’s arts education program.

Poonam Narkar

Cast, Son of the Wind

Poonam Narkar is a dancer and teacher at Chhandam School of Kathak in San Francisco Bay Area. She began her kathak training in 2007 at Chhandam and has trained directly under Pandit Chitresh Das since 2010. She has performed in Chitresh Das Dance Company’s critically acclaimed productions Ramayan, Darbar, Sita Haran, and Shiva. Poonam performed her debut kathak solo in 2017 and performed in Leela Dance Collective’s San Francisco Bay Area premiere of Son of the Wind. In addition to being a dancer and teacher, Poonam is the education and programs coordinator at Chhandam.

Nilima Dave

Cast, Son of the Wind

Nilima Dave began studying kathak in 1999 and received training directly under Pandit Chitresh Das starting in 2003. She performed in multiple Chitresh Das Dance Company productions, including Darbar (2012) and SHIVA (2016), and performs regularly for the San Francisco Bay Area Schools’ “Young Audience” program. Nilima is currently a teacher and Director of Student Affairs and Enrollment at the Chhandam School of Kathak

Neeraja Yadwadkar

Cast, Son of the Wind

Neeraja Yadwadkar's Kathak journey began about 14 years ago and has taken her to schools of Kathak in Pune, Bangalore, and California. In 2013, she began studying under Seibi Lee at the Chhandam School of Kathak in California. She teaches children's beginner level Kathak classes at Chhandam and helps in promoting and preserving Kathak through community performances and performances for young audiences. She recently performed with Leela Dance Collective in Son of the Wind. She recently graduated with a PhD in Computer Science from UC Berkeley. Currently she is a post-doctoral researcher in Computer Science Department at Stanford University.

Debashis Sarkar

Vocals & Harmonium

Debashis Sarkar (vocal) was born and raised in a musical family. In his early years he trained in classical and semi-classical music with a number of renowned artists including Shri Sukhendu Goswami, Ustad Sagiruddin Khan and Shri Sukumar Mitra. He received his formal and foundational training in Hindustani Classical Vocal Music with Ustaad Ghulam Mohammad Khan. Debashis has performed regularly for All India Radio as a top grade artists and numerous media outlets including Doordarshan. For more than four decades, Debashis has been a highly sought after artist amongst India's classical dancers. He has accompanied some of India’s finest performers including the late Odissi master Guru Kelucharan Mahapatro, and notable Kathak artists such as Pandit Birju Maharaj, Pandit Chitresh Das, Pandit Vijay Shankar, and Pandit Rammohan Mishra. Debashis was a core member of the Chitresh Das Dance Company's musical ensemble for over 15 years participating in the composition and performance of full-length musical scores for dance productions such as Darbar, Shiva, Pancha Jati, Sita Haran, East as Center and Sampurnam. Debashis is a popular performer of light classical music including ghazals, thumris and bhajans. He has performed as a soloist and accompanist in prestigious venues in India, Europe, Japan and the United States. He is also proficient in a range of percussion instruments, having studied tabla under Pandit Hiralal Mishra. Debashis is currently a resident artist with the Leela Dance Collective. He regularly performs with the Leela Dance Collective's major productions including SPEAK and Son of the Wind. His passion for music also makes him a sought after lecturer and visiting faculty member at numerous educational institutions around the globe including The Leela Academy.

Jayanta Banerjee

Composer, Sitar

Jayanta Banerjee, renowned sitarist and eminent composer, started his formal training under the guidance of Pandit Rabi Chakraborty at a young age. HIs talent and singular approach to the sitar garnered him early recognition in the field. In 1997, he received the prestigious National Youth Festival Award, paving the way for a prolific and enduring career in music and composition. A profound sensitivity, responsiveness and gravity makes Jayanta's approach to music. Jayanta has performed with some of India's greatest artists including the likes of Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Pt. Birju Maharaj, Pt. Chitresh Das, Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri, and Pt. Kumar Bose. He has established himself as one of India's leading composers and his musical compositions are seen in India's leading dance and theatrical productions. His live performances and compositions have been featured across India and around the world at prestigious venues such as the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, Meany Center for the Performing Arts, and the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai. He currently is a resident artist with the Leela Dance Collective and his recent compositions include the musical scores for SPEAK and Son of the Wind.

Ben Kunin

Sarod

Ben Kunin spent 25 years studying his instrument under the legendary Maestro Ali Akbar Khan at the Ali Akbar College of Music (AACM) in San Rafael, CA. He also studied tabla from Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri for many years at the AACM. In 2006, Ben began performing as an accompanying instrumentalist with Pandit Chitresh Das and his disciples. He performs frequently as a soloist and as an accompanist.

Vaibhav Mankad

Vocals & Harmonium

Vaibhav Mankad is an up and coming musical artist based in Mumbai, India. He boasts a Masters in Hindustani Classical Vocal from Mumbai University and more than a decade of training under the guidance of Shri Rajesh Kelkar, renowned exponent of the Agra Gharana. Vaibhav began performing at the age of 15. His range and versatility quickly established him as a go-to accompanist for artists such as Pt. Birju Maharaj, Smt. Uma Dogra, Smt. Nandita Puri, Pt. Rajesh Gangani and many more. He has toured nationally and internationally performing at prestigious venues such as National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and The Broad Stage. Vaibhav also has established himself as a solo performer with a specialty in the semi-classical genres of ghazals, bhajans and sufi music. In addition to being a prolific performer, Vaibhav is a dedicated educator, with a passion for spreading the knowledge of Hindustani music. He has been teaching music for more than 15 years to talented and avid students in Vadodra, Gujarat, Mumbai, Maharashtra, and across California. Vaibhav is currently an artist-in-residence with the Leela Dance Collective, performing with the Collective's major productions around the world and teaching regularly at the Leela Academy in Los Angeles.

Satyaprakash Mishra

Tabla

Satyaprakash Mishra is the son and disciple of critically acclaimed tabla artist, Pandit Kalinath Mishra of the Benares Gharana. Satyaprakash’s versatility and range makes him a sought-after accompanist amongst India’s most renowned dance and music artists. He has performed nationally and internationally with artists such as Chitresh Das, Sunayana Hazarilal, Suresh Wadekar, Shankar Mahadevan and Anup Jalota. His performances have been seen at some of India's most prestigious festivals including Saptak, Chakradhar, and Harrivallabh and at international venues such as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, The Broad Stage, and the Green Music Center. An artist and entertainer alike, Satyaprakash’s style is marked by technical prowess and sophisticated layakari on the one hand and accessibility and universal appeal on the other. When he is not performing, Satyaprakash is working as an educator, training a new generation of students in the art of tabla through classes and workshops.

Performers



Seema Mehta

Soloist

Joanna Meinl

Soloist

Cimeron Ahluwalia

Soloist

Sarah Morelli

Sarah Morelli

Founding Artist, Soloist

Sarah Morelli

Founding Artist, Soloist

Shefali Jain

Shefali Jain

Founding Artist, Soloist

Shefali Jain

Founding Artist, Soloist

Ahana Mukherjee

Ahana Mukherjee

Ensemble Dancer

Ahana Mukherjee

Ensemble Dancer

Sonali Toppur

Sonali Toppur

Ensemble Dancer

Sonali Toppur

Ensemble Dancer

Ria DasGupta

Ria DasGupta

Ensemble Dancer

Ria DasGupta

Ensemble Dancer

Joya Kazi

Joya Kazi

Ensemble Dancer

Joya Kazi

Ensemble Dancer

Navneet Bal

Navneet Bal

Ensemble Dancer

Navneet Bal

Ensemble Dancer

Poonam Narkar

Poonam Narkar

Cast, Son of the Wind

Poonam Narkar

Cast, Son of the Wind

Nilima Dave

Nilima Dave

Cast, Son of the Wind

Nilima Dave

Cast, Son of the Wind

Neeraja Yadwadkar

Neeraja Yadwadkar

Cast, Son of the Wind

Neeraja Yadwadkar

Cast, Son of the Wind

Debashis Sarkar

Debashis Sarkar

Vocals & Harmonium

Debashis Sarkar

Vocals & Harmonium

Jayanta Banerjee

Jayanta Banerjee

Composer, Sitar

Jayanta Banerjee

Composer, Sitar

Ben Kunin

Sarod

Vaibhav Mankad

Vaibhav Mankad

Vocals & Harmonium

Vaibhav Mankad

Vocals & Harmonium

Satyaprakash Mishra

Tabla