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Astad Deboo (1947-2020): Giving Indian dance a new idiom

The dance maestro, who died in Mumbai, created a truly unique vocabulary, bringing together the classical with the contemporary

Astad Deboo went on to perform in over 70 countries, with solo and group choreographies. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/MINT

Astad Deboo, recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Padma Shri, passed away in Mumbai on Thursday at the age of 73. He was known for bringing together the classical and the contemporary in his performances.

"He left us in the early hours of December 10, at his home in Mumbai, after a brief illness, bravely borne," the family announced on social media.

The statement added: "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."

Deboo was born on 13 July 1947 in Navsari, Gujarat, and went on to study Kathak with Guru Prahlad Das. Later, he received training in Kathakali with E.K. Pannicker. Over the years, several significant collaborations marked Deboo's career, the first of these was in 1986 when he choreographed for Maya Plisetskaya, the prime ballerina of the Bolshoi Theatre ballet company.

Eventually, Deboo went on to perform in over 70 countries, with solo and group choreographies. Some of his most remarkable work emerged from his collaboration with the Pung Cholom drummers of Manipur and was titled Rhythm Divine-River Runs Deep.

He founded the Astad Deboo Dance Foundation in 2002 to provide training to dancers from the marginalised sections. Deboo also worked extensively with the differently-abled. In 2005, he led a group of young women with hearing impairment from the Clarke School for the Dead, Chennai, at the 20th Annual Deaf Olympics in Melbourne. And then, in 2009, he created productions with children from the Salaam Baalak Trust.

Deboo also choreographed for films, such as Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities, directed by M.F. Husain, but the stage remained his first love, and he continued to push the boundaries of his craft till the end.

Performance artist Danish Husain paid tribute to the dancer on Twitter, calling him "one of the art ambassadors of our country".

As dancer Anita Ratnam put it on social media: "dancer, pioneer, dreamer, lone voyager, closed his eyes, December 10, 2020, at 1.01 AM IST at his home in Mumbai. Battled fourth stage cancer, bravely borne. His legacy is unforgettable and invaluable for Indian dance and world arts."

(Based on PTI report)

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