Known as one of the pioneers of modern dance in India, Astad Deboo was a legendary Indian contemporary dancer and choreographer. He was known for creating a unique dance form where he married Kathak and Kathakali to create something new. The Padma Shri awardee passed away on December 10, 2020 but not before he envisioned an interactive exhibition that would detail his life and vision.

Astad Deboo

His younger sister Gulshan Deboo has working to make his dream a reality since then. Reminiscing about Deboo, Gulshan credits his versatility in interests, forms and technique to the strong foundation laid by their parents during their formative years in Jamshedpur. Adding, she says, “Astad was heavily influenced by Hindi movies. We used to have matinee movie marathons when we were younger. Being raised by cosmopolitan parents and surrounded by like-minded neighbours had their advantages, as Astad partook in everything, from elocution, the scouts, apart from his love of arts and culture.”

Beginning on his second death anniversary, the interactive exhibition was curated by Shanoo Bhatia, retrospective curator/designer who closely worked with the dancer before his death. She says, “Describing both Astad, and his work, is like trying to describe an entire universe. I knew him as a friend first and then a dancer. Trending words today, like inclusivity, embracing diversity, these are words that come to mind, and Astad engaged with all his passion with those less fortunate. He consciously invested in people, and brought that to our relationship as well. Not just that, but his performances were just an extension of his audacious personality, and that is what we have tried to capture and express in his retrospective, Breaking Boundaries.”

On four days, the exhibition had performances by different artistes who worked closely with Astad during this life. Installations that chronicle his life, from his birthplace in Gujarat, to significant moments of his history including his performance with Pink Floyd in London, a commission by Pierre Cardin, choreographing a piece for Maya Plisetskaya and performing with the Bolshoi Ballet company will come alive at this exhibit.

Dancer and choreographer Rani Nair has come to Mumbai to perform at this retrospective. She performed a dance variation from a duet that Astad and she has performed on various occasions. Titled Duet – An evening with Astad, it is a performance that deals with ideas of dance history and archive. She explains that while Astad was one of the pioneers of contemporary Indian dance, not much of his earlier work, from the 70s and 80 was documented due to technology or money. When they performed on stage, she would take on the role of an archivist and biographer.

Adding, Nair says, “Shortly after I started working with Astad, we sat down together to make a list of all his work – and it was a long, long list – and I asked him to dance for me, and it was like a story being unfolded, dance history being embodied. He re-enacted dances that existed within Astad Deboo, and were etched in the memories of people who viewed him perform, since not all his acts were recorded, especially in the early years.”

On three different days, there will be performances by Shamshul and the puppeteers, musician Mohi Bahauddin who plays the Rudraveena, an ancient Indian classical musical instrument and a Pung Cholom performance which is a Manipuri drumming dance.

Catch it live!

What: Breaking Boundaries

When: On till December 17

Where: IFBE, Calicut road, Mumbai

Timing: 7pm onwards

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