Celebrating the sounds of silence 
- Lada G Singh, Delhi 
e-mail: ladasinghg@yahoo.com 

December 21, 2004

At a deaf performance, you do not clap. You stretch up your arms and wave. As one waved with members of the audience, there were two emotions running through the mind. Firstly, thanking God for helping one realize one’s blessings that are taken for granted so often, and secondly, expressing faith in the talent of the hearing-impaired artistes, with all humility!  
R Karthika & Astad Deboo - Photo: Monika Ghurde
Astad Deboo’s dance production Contraposition featuring him and eight female dancers from the Clark School for the Deaf, Chennai, was presented at the Kamani Auditorium on December 16, 2004. It was by far, this year’s most sincere dance production in Delhi. The theme of Navarasa or the nine emotions was explored using “space, rhythm, patterns and imagery.” The colors chosen for the costumes, the soulful music and the genius of Deboo as a choreographer, worked in tandem to create an enthralling atmosphere where dance demanded to be judged for its worth without any concessions. 

While Deboo continues to stretch the limits of his unique performance style through extreme physical control over his body, it was a visual delight to watch the dancers flirting with proscenium space and creating energy through combination and not competition. The movements, which were borrowed from Bharatanatyam, Kathak and even Bollywood, matched harmoniously with the carefully created music, which seemed inspired from nature on one end to trance on the other. Amit Heri, who composed and performed parts of the musical score for the evening, has already won critical acclaim as a music director for the English feature film, ‘Morning Raga’. 

A major part of the choreography was based on a combination between circles and diagonals with Astad oscillating in between, becoming a focal point and a rupture, of the dance-energy. Modern choreographic pieces often suffer from acrobatic show off and fuzzy ideas, which sometimes leave an impression of creative bankruptcy. Astad’s idea of basing it on Navarasa may have appeared hackneyed but his strength in demonstrating the versatility of his imagination put all doubts to rest.  

From turquoise blue, which symbolizes spirituality, to shades of orange and yellow, signifying spring, to the culmination with bright red and black, the emotions graduated, changed and interacted with the colors as the evening progressed. Astad’s costumes blended with those of the dancers except in the last piece where he appeared in the rich violet and green, symbolizing the celebration of life. It seemed the nine emotions were put to test against the backdrop of man’s eternal dilemma in choosing technology over nature and vice-versa.  

Often, great artistes are remembered as performers, but rarely as gurus. Maybe, they are so busy performing that they do not have time to teach, or even if they do, they do not allow their students to flourish. An artiste beyond comparison, Astad Deboo happens to be a guru who can inspire other gurus with his dedication, commitment and a strong sense of belief in his students. It is a privilege to witness him create a dance vocabulary, which is all encompassing.  

Imagine, dancing to your inner sound, which does not match with that of the world outside and then creating an atmosphere that leaves the audience spellbound. Imagine, someone who conceives it in his brain and then provides body to it. While he has made his audience rich through this work, Astad has also emerged richer through his dialogue with the hearing impaired artistes. Here, one must mention Karthika, one of the eight talented dancers, who has a very expressive face and can give any amateur classical dancer, a run for her talent! 

Paucity of funds to display such work is a harsh reality one has to contend with. Are we then hell-bent on only propagating Page 3 culture or should we take lessons from the grants made by the Royal Embassy of Netherlands for Contraposition? Where is the Indian Government’s name in the list of contributors/sponsors? One wonders. 

Lada Singh is a Bharatanatyam dancer, poet, journalist and a regular contributor to narthaki.com.