Astad Deboo Dance Foundation’s Interpreting Tagore
- Dr. Sunil Kothari
Photos: Vipul Sangoi

May 8, 2012

On 30th April, hot on the heels of World Dance Day celebrations, the one and only Astad Deboo, along with dancers from Salaam Baalak Trust who he has been training for the past four years, presented Interpreting Tagore with select eight dancers. The programme at Kamani Hall was in aid of Salaam Baalak Trust. The house full performance is another feather in the cap of Astad who has been for the past 40 years performing contemporary dance winning laurels. And his concern for less privileged section and children has brought cheer to the disabled children and street children.

Of the four selected poem of Gurudev Tagore - Surrender, Your Grace, Walking Tall, Awakening - the one which indeed amazed the audience was Your Grace which cast a spell. So unusual and spectacular was it in its concept, imagination, colour and scale that one shall remember it for a long time. As a matter of fact, from all other numbers, Your Grace stole the show.

Akash Khurana’s recitation of the poem in English set the mood. The English translation runs as follows: Mother, I shall weave a chain of pearls for thy neck with my tears of sorrow, the stars have wrought their anklets of light to deck thy feet, but mine will hang upon thy breast. Wealth and fame come from thee and it is for thee to give or to withhold them. But this sorrow is absolutely mine own, and when I bring it to thee as my offering thou rewardest me with thy grace.

The four young dancers performed before the image of a figure with three masks, faces of Kali, using Mayurbhanj Chhau movements with aerial movements around the mother figure. But then lo and behold, from the audience walked four larger than life tall figures dressed in red, with masks of Goddess Kali and walked up on the stage, where as a devotee Astad bowed to these four Goddesses. The scale of those four Goddesses was so big that the presentation took one’s breath away!

It was spectacular. The red and black colours were hypnotic.  Astad dancing under the compassionate eyes of the Goddesses with contrasting heights and scales, created an amazing effect. The Goddesses with their large palms almost caressing the devotee, looking like a child, created an unforgettable visual. The mother’s love for the child, epitomizing Grace found a felicitous expression in those five figures: Astad and four Goddesses. They were live puppets for which Dadi Pudumjee had trained the young dancers. They effortlessly managed the balance carrying on their hands and shoulders covered with flowing red large sarees. The appropriate music, the superb lighting and total impact set the choreography apart. In recent memory, I have not seen such visuals and choreography.

Avinash Kumar and Shamshul have been assistant choreographers and also performers. The masks and puppets were created by Mohammed Shameem and Anil Kumar. The costume design was by Archana Shah, and light designing was by Milind Srivastava. The total effect was astounding.

From among other numbers, Surrender had Astad’s signature of his balancing the body turning backward almost touching the ground and remaining rock steady on his feet. The other dancers juxtaposed with Astad in one corner danced with slow movement and the total impact was artistic and aesthetic.

One wished Astad had avoided English vachikabhinaya in Walking Tall; Tagore had written this poem for Mahatma Gandhi for his struggles. The music is well known as the lyrics and it would have added to the enjoyment of the poem and dance if Astad had used the original tunes of ‘Ekala chalo re’. The groups on either side with mime and gestures narrated the indifference and hurdles, whereas Astad as a protagonist, indeed with chest out and head held up, created the mood of going alone. However, the hand gestures and movements looked repetitive and limited.
The poem Awakening had Astad taking more than four hundred pirouettes - chakkars - and one would never tire of seeing that piece with eclectic music. The lighting enhanced the mood. Astad after taking breath also spoke to the audience introducing his dancers, and thanked all. One learnt a lot about Salaam Baalak Trust and the wonderful work Astad is doing with them. At the end, Sanjoy Roy of Team Works told us that Astad’s mother had passed away in Mumbai the previous evening, but Astad insisted on performing, as he said his mother would have liked him to. The audience stood up in his mother’s memory and showed respect for her and Astad.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is dance historian, scholar, author and a renowned dance critic. He is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. He is honored by the President of India with Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Senior Critic Award from Dance Critics Association, NYC. He is a regular contributor to, the roving critic for monthly magazine Sruti and is a contributing editor of Nartanam for the past 11 years.

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