The Astad Deboo act

Updated: Dec 07, 2016, 15:27 IST | Suprita Mitter |

Ahead of a 60-minute non-stop solo performance in Mumbai, Astad Deboo talks about his new piece and the future of Contemporary Dance in India

Astad Deboo at rehearsal;  at a performance in Delhi. Pics courtesy/Amit kumarAstad Deboo at rehearsal;  at a performance in Delhi. Pics courtesy/Amit kumar

In a room full of books and light, we find one of India’s foremost Contemporary dancers relaxing on a couch, his laptop on lap. As he rises to welcome us, we notice his casual attire; a pair of printed pajamas worn with a tee. Close to turning 70, he doesn’t look his age at all. When we compliment him, he grins, “Many of my contemporaries have stopped dancing. I’m blessed, but it takes a lot of work.”

Next week, Astad Deboo will perform a 60-minute solo act called Eternal Embrace in the city. “It’s a new solo after a decade-and-a-half. I’ve been doing a lot of work, though,” shares Deboo. “It began with a commission by the Metropolitan Museum of New York for a performance in the Islamic Gallery; the premise being that it had to be a work by a Sufi poet and include live music. I started reading up and asked my think tank to suggest ideas since my knowledge of Sufi poetry is not great,” he adds.

At his residence. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
At his residence. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

He zeroed in on a poem called Maati by Hazrat Bulleh Shah, which discusses suffering. “I had encountered a brilliant music composer, Yukio Tsuji, who I worked with for a festival in Seoul. So when this project came up, Yukio was my first choice,” says Deboo. “In this act, you will see strong images of Kathakali, my technique of minimalism and control, a lot of abhinaya (expressions) and a bit of Kathak,” explains Deboo, his fingers almost twisting into a mudra.

Talking about the Contemporary Dance scene in India, he disapproves the training available to dancers. “What I do and what the younger generation presents under the idea of Contemporary are different. My style is minimal as opposed to speed and acrobatics that youngsters use,” he says, adding, “There is talent but it needs to be nurtured, which I don’t think is happening. On TV, there is a new batch every season. Unfortunately, it’s all Bollywood,” he says shaking his head. “The vocabulary of riyaaz, which a classical dancer puts in, is not evident in Contemporary dance. The attitude today can be likened to a microwave oven. It’s as if people say, ‘train me for a few months, and I’ll pop out like a dancer’,” he rues.

But that doesn’t deter Deboo. Post his performance, he will collaborate with Korean drummers and Mridangam players for a new act. In March, he begins work with dancers from the Colombia College in Chicago. He is also working with a Swedish choreographer, who is looking, into the works that he performed in the 1970s and 80s when there was no video. “It’s amazing to see how much the body recalls. The memories come to life when I play the music,” says the Padma Shri awardee before heading off for a rehearsal.

On: December 9 and 10, 7 pm onwards 
At: Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point. 
Call: 66223737 
Cost: Rs 400 to Rs 500

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