Astad Deboo talks to Sangeetha Devi Dundoo on presenting ‘Interpreting Tagore' to mark 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore

Astad Deboo began working on Interpreting Tagore in August 2011. It wasn't going to be an easy task. Deboo's style of dancing doesn't strictly conform to Kathak, Kathakali or Chhau. “I have created a style of my own and one has to look at it in its totality. People interpret my choreography in different ways,” says the soft-spoken Padma Shri awardee, who will be performing in Hyderabad for the first time on Saturday. “Somehow things never worked out for me in Hyderabad. After 22 years of performing in India and abroad, I am happy to perform here,” he says, taking us into the creative aspects of Interpreting Tagore.

He emphasises that the presentation will be his own interpretation of Tagore's four poems, translated in English by Aruna Chakravarty — Walking Tall, Your Grace, Surrender and Awakening. Deboo previously presented Interpreting Tagore as a solo piece in 1995. The new presentation is radically different in paying homage to the bard. “Eight young adults between the ages of 18 and 27, who are originally from the Salam Baalak Trust and then trained for four years in the Astad Deboo Dance Company, will perform with me,” he informs.

Walking Tall is semi-autobiographical, choreographed in Indian classical style. Though Your Grace, he pays obeisance to Goddess Kaali, with the help of masks and puppets. Interpreting Tagore has music by nine composers, including Finnish and Japanese musicians. “I wanted world music and nine people came together to create a unique soundtrack,” he says.

He reverts to talk about the young dancers and says, “Some of these children… I refer to them as children even though they are young adults, are extremely talented and teach the others in the dance company.” Deboo has mentored street children over two decades, particularly the differently-abled and hearing-impaired, and helped them give a new expression to their creative talent. “In the 70s, when I returned to India from the US, I was asked to conduct an acting workshop in Kolkata. Eventually it turned into a workshop that used movements and dance as a therapy,” he recalls.

Deboo didn't acquire formal training to conduct the workshops and learnt along the way. “Street children are so tuned into Bollywood dancing that it takes time for them to learn my vocabulary of dance. There were teething problems. Once, I worked with two different groups — one from Chennai where the children were trained in Bharatanatyam and the other, a group of actors from Kolkata. I had to bring in movement into this workshop. There is no fixed method to my teaching,” he explains.

Till date, 64-year-old Deboo has not stopped experimenting and there lies the joy, he says.

(Interpreting Tagore is being presented by Moving Images film club and Kalakriti Art Gallery, as part of the annual Krishnakriti Festival, at Taramati Baradari on January 7.)

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012