Saturday, December 04, 2004

Contrapositions - Astad Deboo

"This is my 12th visit to Chennai, and I’ve seen a change in the audience here. It’s not drastic, but they certainly have changed." says Astad Deboo, considered a pioneer of Modern Indian Dance, adding, "However, getting sponsorship from Chennai-based corporates is as difficult as ever!"

Taking some time off rehearsals to chat with us about his latest performance in the city, Astad says, "CONTRAPOSITIONS is based on the nava rasas, to be performed along with me, by eight trained dancers from the Clarke School for the Deaf, Chennai. In the last couple of years, I have collaborated with them, initially for short sequences. But with CONTRAPOSITIONS, for the first time, I’ve choreographed a full-length production for the deaf. A year in the making, it’s all thanks to the generous grant from the Royal Netherlands Embassy that it’s been made possible." 

Says Astad, about the logistics of managing this performance while globe-trotting, "I’ve been visiting Chennai from time-to-time to work on this, but it’s been Lakshmi Mahesh and Narayani Venkatasubramanian, both teachers at the Clarke School, who have sustained the continuity of the process while I’ve been away." 

His association with the hearing impaired community, began 16 years ago, as a one-off workshop for Action Players in Calcutta, and has grown to productions, performance tours and collaborations with the deaf community in India and abroad.  

"There are challenges with working with the hearing impaired, and different groups present different challenges. Not all of it has to do with synchronising movements or simultaneous coordination. For example, the students of the Clarke School for the Deaf are trained dancers, so, they have a basic rhythmic pattern and need to be instructed on the pace – slow or fast. Also, they were introduced non-Indian dance movements, which they were not familiar with. In fact, it has been a collaboration in every sense of the word as they have also been giving inputs. The Action Players in Kolkotta are basically actors who dance, so, the energy and effort they put in, is different. Mind you, both groups have had to work very hard!" he says. 

As for the group’s plans, he says, with pride, "After performing CONTRAPOSITIONS in Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai, in January 2005, this same group of dancers, will perform at the opening ceremony of the Deaf Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. After that, it’s on to Malaysia for a show for the deaf community as well as a workshop for deaf students."  

It’s on to Munich after that, for Astad, to perform for a series whose title translates in English to Bringing Public Spaces Alive – and for this, he will perform at an underground station there! 

As Amit Heri’s compositions fill the room, the dancers take their positions to resume rehearsals, and all at once, the line dividing the hearing impaired from the rest, becomes faint. 

CONTRAPOSITIONS premieres in Chennai on December 9, 2004 at 7 p.m. at the Chinmaya Heritage Centre, No. 2, 13th Avenue, Harrington Road, Chetput, Chennai 600031. Tickets are available at Landmark (both outlets) and Odyssey.

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