Astad Deboo literally lived the adage ` Dance like no one’s watching you.’ His contemporary dance style married Kathak and Kathakali into a unique art form. As he waltzed away with death last week silently, his fans and fraternity of dance friends continue to swear by his dance legacy.
His innovative dance style and attire raised many a eyebrows in the 70s and 80s. Over the years, he managed to carve out a niche for himself with his performances.
He once said there was a time when most Indians saw his style as “too western” while westerners found that it was “not Indian enough”. His dance style displayed his signature stillness, interspersed with his subtle expressions and bhava and free flowing hand gestures and flexible body movements. Even while performing in a group, he gave each dancer a change to perform without sabotaging their individuality.
Through his career, he collaborated with artists including Pink Floyd, Pina Bausch amongst others. He was also awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Padma Shri in 2007 by the Government of India.
He broke many a stereotypes. Should dance always be seen in an auditorium? He said, “When you take the dance outside of it, the space speaks. The space itself becomes a part of the performance.”
Freeflowing movements, Khadi attire, the twists, twirls and bends rendered the space and dance timeless and limitless. And then suddenly in between, he would break into a disco beat and movement. The audiences were caught in a momentum, entering a continuum like a spider that catches you into a web.
One of his last memorable performances was in the month of Feb 2020 before the Pandemic hit the globe. At the Orissa Dance Academy, where Astad paid a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi through silence. It was an epic written through movements and his choreography went beyond space. A journey into the world of truth and nonviolence.
Goodbye Astad Deboo 🙏🏾 who created his own dance form by merging contemporary western styles with Kathakali and Kathak . I remember watching him in the early 1980s, marveling at his creativity and energy, which he deepened and carried into his 70s.https://t.co/Kz1g7xDhh9
— Vijayendra Rao (@bijurao) December 10, 2020
Born on July 13, 1947, in Navsari, Gujarat, Astad learned Kathak under Prahlad Das and later Kathakali under EK Pannicker. In his 20s, he studied the Martha Graham dance technique in London and Jose Limon’s technique in New York.
He also choreographed for films a couple of times. He did Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara (2006) MF Hussain’s 2004 film, Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities.
He established `The Astad Deboo Dance Foundation in 2002, which offered opportunity and creative training to marginalized street children and aesthetic advancement to deaf dancers.