In Memoriam: Astad Deboo, Sunil Kothari, & Lee Breuer

As the page turned from 2020 to 2021, the world lost three individuals whose lives impacted the personal narratives of so many, and whose artistic practices expanded the vocabulary of theater and dance worldwide. ACC mourns the passing of dance artist Astad Deboo (1947-2020), dance critic Sunil Kothari (1933-2020), and theater director Lee Breuer (1937-2021).

Astad Deboo, contemporary Indian dance artist, received an ACC Fellowship in 2006 to observe performing arts in Japan, and in 2017 to participate in the La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival. His international travels, however, began decades earlier. In the late 1960s, he first witnessed American contemporary dance when the Murray Louis Dance Company was on its two-month tour of India. "I saw innovation happening in music, visual art, and theater,” he said, “but nothing in dance. I was so full of curiosity and adventure. That’s how my journey began.” He made his way to Iran on a cargo boat, then hitch-hiked to England, dancing, observing, and studying along the way. Over the years, Deboo traveled to every continent, connecting with dance communities and expanding his vocabulary of movement. “Whatever I studied that was not part of the Indian technique,” he said, “I would see [whether] that dance technique or dance culture, I could assimilate and imbibe.” [1]  Deboo was renowned for his bridging dance and theater, as well as combining Kathak and Kathakali to create a “modern dance vocabulary that was uniquely Indian.” [2]  A performer and a mentor, he founded the Astad Deboo Dance Foundation in 2002 to promote contemporary dance and work with young performers in both deaf and marginalized communities.

Astad Deboo at La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival (photo credit: Amit Kumar)

Sunil Kothari, Indian dance historian, critic and scholar, received ACC Fellowships in 1992, 2007, and 2009 to pursue research and serve as a visiting scholar at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Dr. Kothari was not only a professor, but also a critic for The Times of India and a writer of twelve books on Indian classical dance and performing arts. He was a Fulbright Scholar, a member of the International Dance Council of UNESCO, the recipient of prestigious awards for his contributions to Indian classical dance (Sangeet Natak Akademi award, 1995) and literature (Ranjitram Suvarna Chandrak, 2012). As ubiquitous as he was in the field of Indian classical dance, it was not surprising to learn it was Dr. Kothari who suggested Astad Deboo study Kathakali on his return to India in the 1970s. Perhaps Dr. Kothari’s contributions to the field are best summarized by fellow dance critic Alastair Macaulay—who, himself, received ACC Fellowships to research in India. In The New York Times, Macaulay writes: “Few critics or historians have been so central to the performing arts as Sunil Kothari was to the world of Indian traditional dance. As a critic, scholar and teacher of youthful energy, he explored India’s rich dance spectrum in at least a dozen books, with choreographers and dancers all over the nation coming to know him as both an authority and a friend.” [3]

Lee Breuer, pioneer of experimental theater and a Founding Co-Artistic Director of Mabou Mines, received multiple ACC Fellowships from 1993 to 2002. These grants supported research on theater throughout Asia, theater workshops and lectures in Korea and China (Central Academy of Fine Arts), and direction of new theater work at the Heilongjiang State Theater Company. In an interview hosted by The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center this past July, Breuer was asked what theater artists should keep in mind from his body of work. He replied: “[Theater] is a big, long have every theatrical dance and moment. It comes and goes and it passes, and you catch it as it passes. I feel that I’m part of this parade, and I have to be caught in passing. Sometimes, I’m caught; sometimes, people are having a smoke when I go by. The one thing I don’t want to be trapped in is being observed and negated by a pre-ordained observation.” [4]  As the Times put it, “Breuer did not have a locked-in aesthetic,” it was his inquiry, “range and curiosity [that] made him stand out.” [5]  Among his many achievements, he was a 1985 Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Gospel at Colonus, a 1997 MacArthur Fellow, and an Obie Award recipient.

“I like to see my life metaphorically and the moments in it where I’m in different classics of literature," Breuer said, “to walk on the edge, look down, observe, and see what the grand metaphor is.” [4]

We honor these three artists and their contributions—each a classic in the canon of the arts and cultural exchange.


[1] Leday, Annette. “Astad Deboo.” December 10, 2020.
[2] “Dance pioneer Astad Deboo dies in Mumbai at 73,” The Hindu, December 10, 2020.

[3] Macaulay, Alastair, "Sunil Kothari, Eminent Scholar of Indian Dance, Dies at 87," The New York Times, January 6, 2021.
[4] HowlRound Theatre Commons. "SEGAL TALKS: Lee Breuer and Maude Mitchell." July 15, 2020.
[5] Collins-Hughes, Laura, "Lee Breuer, Adventurous Theater Director, Dies at 83," The New York Times, January 4, 2021.