An Evening with Astad deals with ideas of dance history and archive between two continents.
The piece focuses on the experimental 1970s and ‘80s solos of Astad Deboo, a pioneer of contemporary Indian dance who just turned 70 and whose career spans almost fifty years and five continents. On stage with Deboo, I take on the role of an archivist and biographer, cataloguing Deboo’s choreography and stories, and finding new ways to share those with an audience. Deboo explains that technology and money meant his earlier work was never recorded, but “now Rani turns the clock back and ...it’s amazing to see how much the body remembers.” The relational duet form of An Evening with Astad offers a new point of access to this formidable artist — the who of a life story, rather than the what. What results is not only a biography of Deboo himself, but also a personal, intergenerational chronicle of contemporary Indian dance, one that time-travels both backward and into the future.
By dancing together on stage now we have the chance to propose new ideas of what contemporary dance can be, and which bodies are allowed to do so.
- a biographical dance that retells histories that have not yet been written
(born 1947) is an Indian dancer and choreographer, who employs his training in Indian classical dance forms of Kathak as well as Kathakali to create a dance form that is unique to him, and has become a pioneer of modern dance in India. Throughout his long and illustrious career, he has worked with various prominent performers such as Pina Bausch, Alison Chase and Pink Floyd and performed in many parts of the world. He has been awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1996 and Padma Shri in 2007, awarded by the Government of India.
Rani Nair: Concept and performer
Astad Deboo: Performer
Kate Elswit: Dramaturg/Historian
Josefin Hinders: Light design
Samar Jabri : Sound consultant
Cecilia Höglund: Graphic design
Malena Sjöstedt: Production
Developed with support from and during residencies/platforms at
An Evening with Astad is a biographical dance that begins from Astad Deboo and Rani Nair themselves. These artists were born 27 years apart, but both are invested in contemporary manifestations of Indian dance. The seeds of the piece lie with the former Indian Ambassador to Sweden, Banashri Bose Harrison, who came to see Future Memory in 2014 and afterwards introduced Swedish choreographer Nair and famous contemporary Indian dancer Deboo. She argued for the importance of collaboration between these two artists—whose work individually each brought together multiple dance forms—to “illustrate the value of the cross fertilisation of cultures.” Deboo and Nair began working together in the studio for the first time in India in 2015, after a performance of Future Memory at the Ignite! Festival of Contemporary Dance in Delhi. Since Delhi, An Evening with Astad has been developed through residencies and working periods in Lund, Malmö, Pondicherry, Linz, and Mumbai.
The performance that the ambassador saw, Future Memory, was about Rani Nair’s inheritance of the 1975 dance Dixit Dominus, which was made by German choreographer Kurt Jooss for Swedish-based Indian dancer Lilavati Häger. Although the project stemmed from Nair’s earlier reconstruction of the Dixit choreography, Future Memory was a second-order performance—a performance about a performance—that began with the dance and then spread to the people connected by it. In this sense, it was not just about the dance’s movement, but about the movement of the dance: the histories and relationships that cohered around both making the piece and passing it on. The Future Memory performance develops a kind of alternative history, because this dance made between friends—Jooss and Häger—represents an experiment between European and South Asian dance practices that in many ways does not fit neatly into a familiar canon.
An Evening with Astad extends this possibility of using dance to retell histories that have not yet been written. Nair takes on the role of archivist and biographer, cataloguing Deboo’s choreography and stories, and finding new ways to share those with an audience. It is an impossible task to capture the full extent of the global life and dance of Deboo, who just turned 70, and whose career spans almost fifty years and five continents. Instead, the duet form of An Evening with Astad offers a new point of access to this formidable soloist. The Italian feminist Adriana Cavarero describes the importance of such reciprocity in telling not just the what of a life story, but the who: “I tell you my story to make you tell it to me.” Deboo explains that technology and money meant his earlier work was never recorded, but “now Rani turns the clock back and ...it’s amazing to see how much the body remembers.” What results is not only a biography of Deboo himself, but also a personal, intergenerational chronicle of contemporary Indian dance.
About An Evening with Astad, by Kate Elswit, dramaturg
Choreographer’s note, by Rani Nair
In the last couple of years we’ve seen quite a few performances in Europe which are in conversation with archival material, but very few actually bring in dances from outside central Europe or people from other parts of the world. I have previously been interested in hybrid dance forms as a way of exploring questions of identity. For example, in Future Memory, choreographed movement followed a concrete meeting between two dance artists from varied trainings and from different parts of the world: Jooss and Lilavati. However this was also an artistic meeting point between me and Lilavati, as well as a continuation of her experimentation into how to expand and work with contemporary expressions of traditional Indian dance. This experiment with personal movement language and hybrid dance forms are methods and aesthetics I find in Astad’s work as well. Throughout his career, he struggled to challenge people’s perceptions of him, and the expectations of what Indian dance should look like. By dancing together on stage now we have the chance to propose new ideas of what contemporary dance can be, and which bodies are allowed to do so.
Photo: Amit Kumar
Reflection from Astad Deboo
I have been creating for five decades. The early years of my creations were made in isolation where one created the work and performed and hoped that the work would go over well with the audiences and that the work would communicate with the viewers. Most of the times the work was accepted and appreciated but there was a never a conversation or discussion as to why I chose the topic or how I went about working on the particular theme.
Moreover, one never got to perform the work again after its premiere, even though it was often received very well – simply because there were no platforms and the audiences were also not too large.
Later on, one identified theatre directors, music composers, visual artists and very very rarely dancers who could come and see the work in progress and give feedback which helped me reflect and make changes if need be.
The work with Rani is very important because it gives me the chance to question things like: Why did I choose to create the work that I did, what motivated me, what was the process behind the various works, why I chose to collaborate with other performing art disciplines?
Ranis questions make me think in ways no one so far did.
In addition, my earlier work was never recorded and even when recording was possible one could not afford, so now Rani turns the clock back and, with the help of the music, I find that I am able to remember a lot of the choreography. It’s amazing to see how much the body remembers!
With this work, dance history in a way is being recalled and it’s very very important for me, because Rani makes me think and ask questions that I did not think of at the time. With a short time frame performance-wise we may not be able to cover my entire history but through this, a record of material can be made available for the younger generation. If they choose to inquire.