A famous contemporary dancer revisits Auroville
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."