Shall we dance: Here’s how Astad Deboo conquers boundaries with his choreographed moves

During the lockdown, contemporary dancer and choreographer Padma Shri Astad Deboo choreographed his work, Boundaries, which was an ode to migrant workers. Read all about his work so far and his minimalistic and innovative dance moves
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Moved by the plight of migrant workers during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 72-year-old, contemporary dancer and choreographer, Padma Shri Astad Deboo recently finished choreographing ‘Boundaries’, an ode to migrant workers.

Astad Deboo with a group of Manipuri dancers on the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi

The lockdown has created incredible scenarios in the performing arts sector. While Astad is based out of Mumbai, the entire act of ‘Boundaries’ was choreographed with his dancers, Shamshul, Pradeep, Govind and Vicky, based in Delhi, over cyberspace.

Speaking about the experience, Astad shares, "We are all used to having a physical space to practise together, but this time, I showed the team what I wanted from that piece of music online. The boys recorded and shared their moves, while I corrected them, and then the final process was filmed individually. One of the boys, also a video editor, clubbed all the performances to showcase them.”

Developing a signature style of dance

Astad Deboo (Photographer: Ritam Banerjee)

Astad has pioneered a minimalistic and innovative style of dance that is unique to him with elements of Kathak, Kathakali, Butoh and contemporary dance movements. His signature style of dance is characterised by intense ‘mukhabhinaya’ or facial gestures along with ‘mudras’ or hand gestures, as well as fluid body movements, that keep the audience in raptures long after the performance concludes. 

Astad's performances are also known for the use of larger than life masks and his elaborate costumes from flared dhotis and long layered angrakhas which add a vivid vibe to the performances.



Intermingling of cultures

In February this year, Astad in association with the InKo Centre, The Korea Foundation, Arts Council Korea, The Royal Opera House, Mumbai presented the 5th season of ‘Same but Different’ that showcased music and dance traditions from both countries. Along with Astad, the concert featured Trayam, a group of acclaimed Indian musicians and Korea's award-winning new wave music group, Noreum Machi.

The experimental and eclectic soundscapes merged traditional Korean sounds with Classical Indian music, seamlessly. Speaking about the project Astad says, "Two years ago, the collaboration took place in Korea with residencies in Chennai and Seoul before we performed in Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Mumbai.

The 100-minute performance celebrates the distinct music, movement vocabularies, and cultural aspects of Korea and India. My performances were with the Indian musicians, Noreum Machi musicians, Hyeyeong Oh and Gyeongisk Kim, and a final piece with all the musicians of Noreum Machi and Trayam."

Enthusiasts of Astad's dance performances can find a recording of the show on the Instagram handle of the Royal Opera House.

A journey via dance like none other

Astad Deboo during his younger days

From learning Kathak at the tender age of six, to embarking on a journey to study dance in the Martha Graham Dance Technique by boarding a cargo ship from Bombay to Europe, and eventually hitch hiking his way to New York, his journey to the world of dance has seen Astad observing and experimenting with both modern and traditional dance forms. He has performed extensively in the Americas, China, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Europe, and India. 

Reminiscing about his journey Astad says, "With each experience I came out richer, but the process of creation through time has evolved. I too am evolving as an artist, the body has also evolved, and one realises what one can do, and how the body responds. The dance process has been gradual, almost minimal and meditative.”

The Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee, Astad, in his long and illustrious career spanning over half a century, has collaborated with artistes all over the world such as Pink Floyd, Yukio Tsuji, Thomas Mettler, theatre director Hyoung Taek Limb on the production of Hamlet and many more.

Astad was commissioned by Pierre Cardin to choreograph a dance performance on the famous Bolshoi with the Ballerina Maya Plisetskaya and has given spell bounding performances for the royal families of Sweden, Bhutan, Japan, Thailand, at the Khajuraho dance festival, Elephanta festival and many other festivals across many countries.



His repertoire also includes performing at The Great Wall of China, National Gallery of Modern Art, a house in Chettinad house in Delhi, a railway station, as well as a courtyard of a college where he invited the audiences to be a part of his performance.

He was commissioned by the Islamic Wing of Metropolitan Museum of Art to create a dance for which he created a work on Bulleh Shah's Maati and most recently, he was at the Buckingham Palace to inaugurate the UK-India Year of Culture.

Sharing his gifts and talent

Astad is known for his minimalist and meditative moves

Over the years, through Astad Deboo Dance Foundation, Astad has worked with different sections of the society - with the street children of the Salaam Baalak Trust, with the hearing-impaired children of Kolkata’s The Action Players, The Clarke School for the Deaf, Chennai, and he has also trained, taught, and mentored 14 young deaf performers from the Kothavala school of Deaf, Bengaluru.

"Presently I am training 12 students of the Stephen High School for the Deaf and Aphasic in Mumbai. My work begins with making the students aware of their bodies, controlling their movements and to concentrate and synchronise movements with each other. It takes a while because usually the students are used to Bollywood kind of music and dance," shares Astad. 

Despite his legendary body of work, and being recognised for his immense contribution to the field of dance, one of the constant grouses that Astad carries is that of finding sponsors for his work.

"Even with my work and experience, it is unfortunate that there are very few takers to promote my kind of art. It is difficult to still find sponsors," he says.

(Image credits: Astad Deboo)

Edited by Asha Chowdary

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