Remembering Astad: By Tapas

While working at the Indian Embassy, in Paris, Tapas Bhatt met Astad Deboo at an International Dance Competition and invited him to Auroville to perform at the Sri Aurobindo Auditorium. Astad became a regular visiting guest in Auroville and we were fortunate to see his magnificent whirling piece set to Tagore’s poem, a slow, swirling infinity. He also brought his work with the martial arts dancers of Manipur, his work with dancers with hearing impairment from America, quite a feat, produced as a full scale, fun-filled choreography. In Auroville Astad had an appreciative, full house audience for his performances. He also offered dance workshops and got the puppeteer, Padamjee, to show us his craft. Astad loved coming to Auroville, to hang out in Pondicherry, perform at the Lycee and making many friends wherever he was. His awards were many, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the Padmashri. 

Astad (13 July 1947 – 10 December 2020) was an early pioneer, breaking ground to other shores and opening the door of possibility for contemporary dance in India. He came to forge a unique style in Indian Contemporary Dance that carries so many influences in it. Dancers in Auroville were fascinated by his trajectory which included Martha Graham, Pina Bausch, of being commissioned by Pierre Cardin to choreograph for the legendary Maya Plisetskaya, plus his assimilation of Kathak, Kathakali, Bharatanatyam, its abhinaya, the  different Indian martial art forms, poetry, a sufi spirit, as well as his attention to stage design, play with costumes, the eclectic music, all melded into something now easily recognizable as the School of Astad. This was also in evidence in the choreography he created, long distance, for Anita R Ratnam’s lockdown initiative, just a few months ago – simple, sparse, yet full of Astad’s original complexity, rigour and grace – a delight to watch. His last works show a tendency to start deep, unfurl slowly and open wings to fly.

It was great knowing you Astad. Thanks for passing by Auroville. Keep flying with the Light.