‘His works represent an important segment in contemporary dance expression in India,’ the Sangeet Natak Akademi had said.
Dance pioneer Astad Deboo passed away in the early hours of Thursday, his family said in a brief announcement. He was 73.
“He left us in the early hours of December 10, at his home in Mumbai, after a brief illness, bravely borne,” the announcement on social media said. “He leaves behind a formidable legacy of unforgettable performances combined with an unswerving dedication to his art, matched only by his huge, loving heart that gained him thousands of friends and a vast, number of admirers.”
The announcement added: “The loss to the family, friends, fraternity of dancers, both classical and modern, Indian and international, is inestimable.May he rest in peace. We will miss him.”
Deboo is noted for creating a modern dance vocabulary that was uniquely Indian.
He “has created a dance-theatre style which successfully assimilates Indian and Western techniques”, said the citation for the the Sangeet Natak Akademi he received in 1995 for his contribution to contemporary creative dance and a Padma Shri in 2007.
“He has experimented with a variety of forms, themes, concepts and performance spaces, and has collaborated with other dancers, composers and designers to create innovative works of aesthetic value,” it said. “His works represent an important segment in contemporary dance expression in India.”
Deboo, who was born on July 13, 1947, in the town of Navsari in Gujarat, began to train in kathak under Prahlad Das in Kolkata and in kathakali under EK Pannicker.
“Later, he attended the London School of Contemporary Dance, learning Martha Graham’s modern dance technique, and learnt Jose Limon’s technique in New York,” the Akademi said. “He has also trained with Pina Bausch in the Wuppertal Dance Company, Germany, attended workshops of the Pilobolus Dance Company, and attended American Dance Festival classes in the United States.”
In an interview with Ranjana Dave in Scroll.in in 2018 looking back on his 50-year career, Deboo said that he drawn in influences not only from dance but other artistic disciplines too.
“My main problem was that there were no dancers who wanted to work with me,” he said. “Indian classical dancers would come to me in order to start exploring their own language, but they were always afraid of being rusticated by their gurus. So, I turned to other performing arts disciplines – puppetry, thang ta and pung cholom. I liked that they had a vocabulary of movement I could create with.”