A lifetime of dance

Shilpi Madan, Feb 10 2018, 18:32 IST
Ashley Lobo

Ifeel very fortunate to be living my dream of dance and choreography in India and all over the world," says India's most sought-after choreographer, Ashley Lobo. He has more than one reason to feel lucky and blessed. Lobo brought home another laurel last year by choreographing a full-length ballet for the Chemnitz Ballet in Germany. "A first for any Indian choreographer," he beams. "So, I am not just happy. I am ecstatic."

Ashley Lobo is a shining exponent of classical ballet, jazz and contemporary styles of dance. Blame his genes. With Celia Lobo, a renowned opera singer and theatre personality, as his mother, Lobo was bound to share her leanings towards the fine arts. During his early years in Mumbai, he got a chance to work with leading personalities from the field of theatre, including Alyque Padamsee, Karla Singh, Salome Roy Kapoor and more. He also got to hone his skills in productions like Best of Broadway, Grease, Cascades, Cabaret, Evita... Australia beckoned in 1989 and he moved to Oz to study dance at the Bodenweiser Dance Centre and then at the Sydney Dance Company.

Meant to be

So, his rich repertoire spans theatrical works overseas as well as in ballet, television and choreography. It wasn't easy supporting himself on foreign turf. Ashley scrubbed floors in Australia and sold consumer goods to eke out a living. Few know he is a yoga practitioner as well. But each time Ashley pursued another stream, life always brought him back to dance. Call it a karmic connection. "There is a saying: 'you don't choose dance, dance chooses you'. I was fortunate that no matter how much I did not believe in myself and my dance, the universe did and made sure I got back to dance even when it seemed impossible. Today, I go where dance takes me. I have surrendered my life to serving dance," says Ashley.

He has, of course, made it a point to give back on home turf as well. Having choreographed foot-tapping numbers in box office spinners like Cocktail, Guzaarish, Jab We Met and Namastey London, Ashley is busy with the productions of his baby, Navdhara India Dance Theatre as well. He founded the Danceworx Academy in Delhi, and today, there are branches across India. What about film choreography? "You choreograph for the actors in a film, not for yourself. So, it is more about smart choreography in movies. As for me, I believe the best way to show gratitude is by sharing," he says.

"So, I work daily on sharing dance with as many as possible. Dance is my life. It defines me. I do not see it as a career. I see it as a way of life. I feel a dancer's life is full of hardship and idealism. One creates the other. I have surrendered to this reality and from it comes unimaginable joy. As I always say, 'dream big and trust'. The universe has a plan if you are willing to listen to your instincts. I think that as a dancer the work we do must reflect society and the changes needed. I try to let the contemporary work I create do that," he explains.

With Navdhara's incredible success overseas as a contemporary touring company, Ashley has helped in shaping dance dreams for many. Navdhara has toured seven countries in 2017. "This is unheard of for most companies, leave alone a contemporary dance company based out of India. Within Danceworx and Navdhara, we are constantly looking at talented youngsters to give scholarships to. We also have a project where we reach out to street kids. About three years ago, I started a project called the 'Going Home' project. This was aimed at giving youngsters from smaller towns scholarships for professional training," shares Ashley.

"My dream when I came to India 20 years ago was to see trained international professional dance become a reality. Today, there are dance academies all across the country. We have students all over the world teaching, choreographing and dancing. In fact, Amir, one of our students, has got a full scholarship to the Royal Ballet in the UK," he says.

Whom does he himself admire? "The works of Bob Fosse (in jazz), Jiri Kylian (in ballet) and Ohad Naharin (in contemporary dance)."

And what's next? "Two new films and two new dance pieces for theatre in Israel," he states. Our eyes are peeled.

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