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Feb 2002

Deboo dances

A famous contemporary dancer revisits Auroville

- by Bindu


Astad Debou  -  photo by Farookh Chhotia.December saw a singular performance by Astad Deboo, the doyen of modern dance in India. Internationally-acclaimed and nationally honoured with the Sangeeta Natak Academy Award, India's highest award for artistes, Deboo is well known to the Auroville audience through earlier shows.

Words seem inadequate to describe the stunning variety of movements, poses and expressions that Deboo presents on the stage. Each of the three pieces that Deboo showcased on the Auroville stage had a unique appeal. His first piece was muted with contained slow movements. The next, "Interpreting Tagore", was inspired by a poem of Rabindranath Tagore addressed to the Mother Goddess. In it, Deboo with the props of a mask and a robe, skillfully weaves classical dance elements and expressions from Indian traditions with modern movements. The last piece, "Every Fragment of Dust is Awakened" was clearly the audience's favorite. In a climatic act that was sheer poetry in motion, Deboo dressed in a flowing white gown whirls non-stop for a breathtaking 2.5 minutes. Reminiscent of the whirling dervishes of the mystic Sufi tradition, the act captures the yearning and the transcendence of the spirit that seeks union with the Divine.

Deboo was trained in the North Indian classical dance form of Kathak as a child, but since then he has been travelling around the world and constantly learning from dance traditions as diverse as those of South America, Japan, Indonesia, Europe, China and USA. Consequently Deboo's dance vocabulary ranges from the exuberance of narrative-based dance drama forms of South Asia to the intensity of abstract contemporary dance of the West. His more recent training in the theatrical dance form of Kathakali from Kerala imparts an amazing degree of physical control to the visual beauty of his dance. Equally eclectic in his choice of music, Deboo draws inspiration from contemporary performers from various nations. As he mentioned to the audience during a dialogue after the performance, it is often a piece of music that haunts him and leads him to choreograph a particular dance.

At 54, Deboo shows no sign of slowing down and has already promised to come back to Auroville in February with a troupe of Manipuri martial art dancers. When asked how his aging body coped with the physical rigours of dance, Deboo with candid simplicity replied that, "The Lord has blessed me with a strong body to allow me to continue to serve Him."

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