BECAUSE THE United States is, comparatively speaking, so very young, artists here have few great, rock-like traditions to abandon or sully. In a country such as India, however, centuries-old traditional forms present the forward-thinking visual or performing artist with a real challenge. To break away from these vital legacies is frequently regarded either as betrayal or plain foolishness.
Astad Deboo, a mature solo dancer and choreographer from Bombay who has toured extensively around the globe, is one trailblazer who has attempted to simultaneously make peace with his heritage and find his own artistic voice.
A longtime student of the classical, highly theatrical Indian dance form of Kathakali and Kathak, he has also trained in the modern dance styles of Martha Graham and Jose Limon, taken classes in Japanese folk dance in Tokyo, studied jazz in Canada and San Francisco, and even spent some time absorbing the highly experimental technique of West Germany's Pina Bausch. In the process, he has built up some impressive credentials, among them a commission from fashion designer Pierre Cardin to choreograph a piece for Bolshoi superstar Maya Plisetskaya, a four-city tour of China and a commission by London's ground-breaking Channel Four to broadcast a program of his work.
For all these accomplishments, it has taken Deboo a long time to be appreciated by his fellow Indians.
"We Indians just do not take him seriously," wrote a critic last year in Bombay's Sunday Observer, who described the choreographer as "the only man in India who . . . risks breaking peoples' preconceived (make that traditional) ideas about dance."
Is it his mixing of dance and music old and new, East and West that disturbs spectators? Is it his bouncing back and forth between the abstract and the concrete?
Washington audiences can judge for themselves this weekend when Deboo presents five works at Dance Place. The program includes "Duel," in which he plays a pair of antagonists; "Broken Pane," a portrait of a drug addict told in flashbacks; and "Confluence," a classless combination of classical Indian and modern dance styles.
Tradition is all to Melvin Deal. For 31 years, he and his African Heritage Dancers and Drummers have educated and entertained local audiences with his versions of ceremonies and celebrations passed down from generation to generation. The organization's annual anniversary concert -- dedicated to the resident population of St. Elizabeth's Hospital and entitled "A Tribute to the Living Forgotten" -- will feature the premiere of "Wolosa Dance," a dance of the slave caste Wolosa people of ancient Senegambia, a region in West Africa, performed by the African Heritage Junior Company. The Senior and Elder Companies will also present harvest and recreational dances.
ASTAD DEBOO -- Saturday and Sunday at 8 and Sunday at 4 at Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. On Sunday children ages 12 and under are admitted free. Call 202/269-1600.
AFRICAN HERITAGE DANCERS AND DRUMMERS -- Saturday at 7 at Hitchcock Auditorium, St. Elizabeth's Hospital, 2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE. Call 202/399-5252.