"The word contemporary' is used blasphemously"

At 65, Indian contemporary dancer Astad Deboo continues to remain one of the most popular dancers in the country. His productions are the most looked forward to, with larger-than-life visuals and dramatic props, in true Deboo style. After his last production, Interpreting Tagore, which was highly appreciated by the audience and critics, he plans to kick off 2013 in style, with a new solo production, which will premiere on January 1 in New Delhi.

While Interpreting Tagore presented an understanding of the legendary bard through an interpretation of some of his poems, the new solo production, titled Toba Tek Singh, is based on the story written by the famous Pakistani poet and author Sadat Hassan Manto. Apart from that, in the coming year, Deboo also plans to take Interpreting Tagore to Delhi, Chennai, Auroville and other places.

A still from Astad Deboo’s last production Interpreting Tagore

Reminiscing about the year gone by, Deboo admits that though it has seen many dance festivals and performances, raising money for new productions remains a difficult task. “Unfortunately, the going is still tough,” he says. “After being in the field for 44 years, I still face difficulty in getting platforms or sponsors for my productions. There is a need for more encouragement to the field and newer platforms,” he adds emphatically.

Though many newer groups are mushrooming, and the city is witnessing more performances than earlier, Deboo feels that youngsters need to have a certain amount of training before they start performing. “The word ‘contemporary’ is used, very blasphemously. When someone says they are learning contemporary dance, they feel they don’t need any strong foundation. That’s the sad part,” rues Deboo, who has trained in the classical dance forms of Kathak and Kathakali. “I hope people get more serious. There is a lot of hard work to be done. The trend today is veering towards popular dance or Bollywood dance, in the name of contemporary,” he adds.

Another aspect where he hopes to see improvement in 2013, is the exorbitant rents charged by venues. “It’s impossible for a young talented dancer to showcase his / her work owing to exorbitant theatre rents. When, after all my experience, it is still difficult for me, what does one do? No corporate houses are willing to sponsor or encourage dance. There is an audience who appreciates great dance, and there is a real need to encourage it,” he asserts.

About Toba Tek Singh
The new production, which premieres in New Delhi on January 1, is the story about Toba Tek Singh who is in a mental asylum. Immediately after Independence there was a decree announcing that all Muslim mental patients should be transported to Pakistan’s mental asylums and Hindus to the Indian mental asylums. Toba Tek Singh is in a dilemma whether to go to Pakistan or remain in India. Astad Deboo will interpret this story through dance and there are vignettes of stories, which are in Toba’s head.

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