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Written by Suanshu Khurana
| New Delhi |

December 11, 2020 four:40:15 am

Astad Deboo’s first photoshoot publish lockdown in Pune. (Source: Astad Deboo/Instagram; Neelesh Kale/Facebook; designed by Gargi Singh)

Days earlier than a dance competition at Kolkata’s Nazrul Manch — the vacation spot for the celebrated Dover Lane Music Conference — programme curator and Kathak exponent Shovana Narayan discovered herself reassuring senior dance performers over the inclusion of dancer Astad Deboo within the record. The yr was 1995 and up to date Indian dance was nonetheless struggling to discover a foothold. “They said he isn’t traditional enough,” recollects Narayan. “But they were talking of tradition as they knew it. Not the tradition that could be evolved, or the one that could be interpreted differently, the way a dancer like Astad, who was trained in multiple forms, wanted to present.”

Deboo danced anyway, Narayan tells The Indian Express, opening the competition together with her, and placing these current in a “meditative trance” — some have been transformed, others confused. Deboo, who passed away Thursday morning in Mumbai at the age of 73, after a quick combat with lymphoma, would go on to pioneer up to date dance in India.

At that Kolkata efficiency, Deboo synthesised Kathak with Kathakali and up to date kinds. The kind would by no means want a reputation; it was simply Astad Deboo’s dance.

Says dancer Navtej Singh Johar, “He singularly forged his own way, had a unique vocabulary, and tread his own path diligently for decades. He was working right till the end. He was very clear in his vision about what his vocabulary was and he kept building on it. For the longest time, he was the only one on the horizon.”

Choreographer Shiamak Davar, who briefly skilled with Deboo, says he influenced him and others to select up fashionable up to date dance. Describing Deboo as “way ahead of his time”, Davar provides, “In the West, they did not consider his dance Indian enough, and in India, it was not considered Western enough… That’s something I completely understand and relate to. But I think now people have understood that whether you’re Western or Indian or a mix of both, you’re original, and that’s important. He was original.”

Understanding Deboo’s trajectory over time, from the 1980s onwards, is like watching a dancer evolve — he was consistently including to his work, experimenting with mediums, kinds, to the purpose when his stillness turned as vital as his motion.

Deboo would additionally place his dance inside the context of the occasions. In January this yr, when he introduced ‘Unbroken Unbound’ in Delhi to commemorate 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi, he informed this reporter that it was his means of “showing solidarity with the students on the streets”. (Protests have been on on the time over the CAA and violence on JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia campuses.) Says Johar, “He was very discreet, not strident about anything. (But) He was constantly weaving in contemporary concerns.”

Born to a middle-class Parsi household in July 1947, Deboo grew up in Jamshedpur and began studying Kathak in Kolkata on the age of six. After graduating in commerce from a school in Mumbai, he needed to pursue dance in greater research however was opposed by his father. So, in 1969, the 22-year-old younger insurgent boarded a cargo boat, travelling with “goats and sheep” to Europe, and after hitchhiking his means by the continent, made his method to New York in 1974.

The experiences of his travels, from Iran to London to America, not straightforward on a lean budget, enriched Deboo’s artwork.

In New York, he enrolled on the well-known Martha Graham dance academy, however dropped out as he “couldn’t respond to it”. He would finally prepare with Pina Bausch, on the Wuppertal Dance Company in Germany. In 1977, he returned to India and learnt Kathakali beneath guru E Krishna Panicker.

Over the years, Deboo would tackle college students, although not many, and work with the hearing-impaired.
Says pal and Kathak exponent Aditi Mangaldas, “Astad was a lone crusader, a lone warrior in a very different dance environment. He had such courage that, years ago, he just took off with the knowledge of what he had learned… So many of us talk about our great heritage but he thought of the idea of world heritage.”

Designer Sandhya Raman, who labored intently with Deboo and was one of many few to find out about his cancer, which was in its fourth stage when detected, says, “Every little muscle could move in his body.”

In latest years, with age, the insurgent as soon as accused of “twirling too much” had developed once more, to actions that have been nearly like watching sluggish movement. Deboo as soon as defined how this was robust. “Being minimal is harder than sort of prancing around. With much slower movement, I take my time and get you into it. The expression comes but in a very different rhythm.”

Even because the illness set in and the coronavirus pandemic halted life, Deboo stored working, mates say, even recording a few collaborative movies from house. One of the initiatives he was engaged on was archiving his 50 years in dance.

Mangaldas says the person who gave India a brand new language of dance, permitting cross-cultural conversations between varied kinds, with out speaking about himself, mustn’t have had to do that. “Somebody of his stature was archiving his own work! Not the State, not any organisation, he himself. We talk of our golden history and heritage, but what about the living? Why do we leave them?”

But, like he did day by day of his life — strolling onto the stage, making his area — Deboo wouldn’t have cared.

with inputs by SURBHI GUPTA

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