I met Astad Deboo for the first time many years ago when I went to watch one of his earlier shows. When I saw him, I was wondering what kind of work is this because it was nothing I had seen before. And that really helped me understand that there was somebody who could do this kind of work in India. So he was a pioneer, and it’s wonderful that he went all over the world, studying his art, and showing India in a very proud light. He was a national treasure for modern dance. We will miss him dearly.
He was way ahead of his time. He was a great modern dancer, an artist. He was the one who started it all and influenced so many of us to pick up modern contemporary work. His work was a blend of contemporary Indian and contemporary modern. It had a lot of folk, classical forms, a lot of Kathak, Bharatnatyam, and Chhau. Every form of Indian dance put inside with Western movement. He used a lot of properties and sets which looked beautiful. As a young boy watching Astad Deboo it influenced me that ‘wow, somebody is doing something so different’, other than the classical style. This was modern and different. I was always very impressed with his work. I went for one batch of his (to learn) many years ago–he was a very strict teacher.
In the West, they did not consider his dance Indian enough, and in India, it is not considered Western enough. It’s the same problem that has been there with me, and that’s something I completely understand and relate to. But I think now people have become aware that people have understood that whether you’re Western or Indian or a mix of both, you’re original, and that’s important. He was original.
Shiamak Davar is an Indian contemporary dancer and choreographer.
(As told to Surbhi Gupta)