However, that does not eclipse his excitement for the latest work, brought to Delhi by the Rasaja Foundation. Conceived keeping in mind the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Deboo took four quotes by him that find relevance in contemporary times to prepare 'Unbroken Unbowed'. "I didn't want to take something from Gandhi's life because several people have done that, therefore I went to his quotes including 'Nothing has saddened me so much in life as the harshness of educated people' and 'it's easy to stand with the crowds, it takes courage to stand alone'. They stand so true even today."
While the production will travel to Bhubneshwar and Jamshedpur post Delhi, Deboo, who started learning dance at the age of six and went to Kerala to learn Kathakali and martial arts post learning western dances and martial arts techniques across the world, looks back at the time when he started out and was considered an outsider by the purists. "Yes, initially there was a lot of dismissal. But things have changed. Now they come and see my performances. By the way, I know at least three classical dancers who are coming for this one with their dancers," he smiles.
For someone who has built a sizeable and dedicated audience for his work over the years, lack of formal training institutions make him pessimistic about the future of Contemporary dance in India. Considering the fact that there are just two institutions Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bengaluru and Ashoka University, Sonepat that offer programmes in this discipline, this dancer and choreographer laments, "A good future for any art form requires several solid institutions. Most of the youngsters you see are self-taught and come from an Indian classical training. And let's not talk about pop-up institutes, which are run by people who have no other choice. I always tell the young to study, but I can see their dilemma where can they go to study? Frankly, I don't teach as I feel it's a great responsibility, and I am still a performer and a traveller. A dancer must have training as that gives him the foundation to kick off to be an original."
Deboo, who has also been working with special children for close to three decades talks about the journey that started in Kolkata in 1988 when he did a workshop for a friend who ran a theatre company for the hearing impaired.
"Personally, it is a delight. I see myself as a catalyst in moulding them into performers, building their self-confidence and facilitating role models within their community. They learn by a pattern of rhythm of counting. They all have to learn to count simultaneously so there is synchronicity in the performance. Music eventually does take part but when I am working with them, it's without sound, which comes in much later," he says.
Considering the fact that when it comes to dance, everything revolves around Bollywood, Deboo remarks that it is unfortunate that all that people ask for is Bollywood dancing. "But I still remember a remark made by one of my street children, now a professional actor and director - 'When we do a Bollywood dance, people just applause and leave. When we work with Astaji, they make it a point to come to the green room and congratulate us.'"
Two years ago, Deboo collaborated in Seoul with eight Korean and three Karnataka music who will come to India next month for a four-city tour. He has also started a work with Bahauddin Dagar, the Rudra Veena player. Ask what fascinates him about collaborations, and he asserts, "I feel what both of us have to offer will bring in a new dimension and direction to creativity, and that's the most exciting part. Four years ago, in Korea, I collaborated with a theatre company there to do 'Hamlet', in which I enacted the role of Hamlet's father - the ghost and was also partly involved in choreographing the work. In Chicago, I worked with a Bharatanatyam dance company based there, the work was premiered in November. I took two of my young performers and worked with her dancers."
He smiles that at 72 what keeps him going is the fact that he is still able to participate in the process of creation with different performing disciplines. "Also that the work is appreciated. But what most people don't see is the amount of preparation which goes behind the scenes - it really takes a lot."
Sandhya Raman, the costume designer adds, "This production is so much about what the need of the hour is. Astad brings in calmness, and peace, and that has been captured and enhanced in the silhouette created in Khadi."
(Sukant Deepak can be contacted at sukant.d@.in)
( With inputs from IANS )