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Astad Deboo: A tribute to the pioneer of modern dance in India

Leading modern contemporary dancer and choreographer Astad Deboo died in Mumbai after a brief illness, he was 73. He was a pioneer as far the modern dance movement was concerned and established his own dance statement with the theatrical appeal. He was often attired in a long skirt sans any makeup, he would move and sway with distinct and elegant movements, maintaining a solemn and serene expression on his face. He covered a wide spectrum of themes that were socially relevant with a holistic perspective.

Astad was trained in Kathak under Prahlad Das and Kathakali from EK Pannicker. He also sought guidance from the Martha Graham Centre of Performing Arts, Pina Baush in the Wuppertal Dance Company, Germany and he also attended workshops of Pilobolus Dance Company and American Dance Festival.

Astad was a Parsi and was strongly supported by the Parsi community and one of most regular platforms in Mumbai he would perform was the National Centre of Performing Arts(NCPA). Without any hesitation, he would categorically state that without corporate financial support such programmes would not be possible, hence their support is vital. I remember an unusual programme when Astad enacted and danced “Thanatomorphia” with a mask. Thantomorphia is a festival in Indonesia where death is celebrated like a festival, where all rejoice and dance. as death frees man from all types of bondages and sufferings, attaining salvation and eternal bliss, hence the reason to celebrate. Astad was quite innovative and creative and would intermingle with other art forms and dancers. Astad said “Classical dancers were reluctant to dance in my productions, otherwise they would be rusticated by their mentors but I would move forward to interact artistically with art forms like puppetry, martial art thanta or the Manipuri Pung Cholam. I am always interested in presenting new themes with a different dimension and perspective”.

Astad Deboo and Group | PC: FB Page

Astad is particularly credited for his work with children with hearing impairment and the street children too. He formed his own individualistic style with varied colours and interactions with other performers. Astad has performed in several festivals both in India and abroad and has won prestigious awards like the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1995 and the Padma Shri in 2007. The SNA citation stated “He has created a dance-theatre style which successfully assimilates Indian and western techniques”; Astad was a warm and friendly person, maintaining cordial relations with everyone.

May his soul rest in peace.

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