Dance

Veteran dancer-choreographer Astad Deboo says much more can be done to present dance shows

Dancer-Choreographer Astad Deboo performs at Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi

Dancer-Choreographer Astad Deboo performs at Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: PTI

Elegant vocabulary

He is a picture of grace and elegance. His agility belies his 70 years. Astad Deboo is in his 50th year of his career as a professional dancer-choreographer, and he shows no signs of tiring. The veteran was in Bengaluru recently for a performance of Same Same But Different, a concert series initiated by Korean-based music ensemble Noreum Machi, presented by InKo Centre, in association with The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Republic of Korea and Arts Council Korea, at Jagriti Theatre.

In a free-wheeling chat Astad talked about his performance and his journey as a performer.

“My work is three pieces, one with the Carnatic musicians, the second with Korean musicians and the third with the entire Korean and Indian ensemble.”

Astad, however, says that presenting his shows aren’t easy despite being a recognised figure. “Performance platforms have been few and far between. I have to produce shows myself because the presenters offer a ridiculous price.”

Veteran dancer-choreographer Astad Deboo says much more can be done to present dance shows

However, there is no stopping Astad. He has evolved a style of his own, which he describes as a contemporary vocabulary with a traditional twist.

“I am trained in Indian classical dance, first in Kathak and then in Kathakali. Then I went abroad to study modern dance. I spent a lot of time in Japan and Indonesia. All these influences are embodied in my work, and through the years I have evolved as a performer to create my own vocabulary, which is minimal and controlled. You will see that it is still an Indian body performing. I do bring in elements of my Indian classical tradition, it is not like all the work will have either Kathak or Kathakali, sometimes there are just traces, which is again to see how the body performs and responds.”

Even though Astad has not founded any school, he has created a body of work with the youth, having worked with street children and the hearing impaired for years. “In 2007, I was asked by Salaam Baalak Trust to create a work with street children, so I created Breaking Boundaries. Two years ago I was asked by the Wildlife Trust of India to create a work on saving the elephant, so I picked up some of the students (who I worked with for Salaam Baalak Trust). I have been mentoring them. As and when the opportunity arises I call upon them. Some of them have become professionals. I have brought them on board in my most recent work Unbroken Unbound, celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.”

Astad says he has been working with the hearing impaired for the last 30 years. “The first group was in Kolkata, the second in Chennai and now I am working with a group in Mumbai and I have also been involved with Gallaudet University in Washington DC for some years.”

Astad says he sees himself as a catalyst in bringing forward talent from these young performers.

“I have worked in Manipur for 14 years. I first started working with the thang ta (Manipuri martial arts) and now with the Pung Cholom drummers so that is another contribution of bringing the traditional Manipuri performing disciplines into my works.” He dismisses any claim that he can pick up any style of dance.

“There are many styles and it is physically not possible to pick up all of them. The style which I have studied is what my body responded to. I started at the age of six, I went overseas at the age of 21, and when I was there I started taking classes and saw that you focus on a particular style to see if you can respond to that particular style.

“There are these young dancers who say they contemporary dancers. When asked what have you studied? They say ballet, jazz etc...that is not possible. “They have probably taken a workshop or seen a video and then say they have studied that. It is half-baked. With Indian traditional dance styles, we spend years before we have an arangetram. So similarly I spent a good 10 years studying Kathak and another six years studying Kathakali, not to be a Kathakali dancer but just to have that vocabulary in my body, which I call upon as and when I choose to choreograph my work.”

As to the secret to his passion for dance, Astad says: “I am blessed that I am still able to dance, whatever I present my audience appreciate and receive it positively. I am still motivated to work and dance.”

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 8:21:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/elegant-vocabulary/article31022303.ece

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