Dance is a performing art, which is incomplete without an audience. For over a year, dancers have been confined to their homes, owing to the pandemic. Auditoriums have been replaced by social media, dance studios have remained mostly shut while classes were conducted online. At a time like this, celebrating International Dance Day might seem pointless, but dancers have an indomitable spirit and no pandemic and beat that.
Choreographer Ashley Lobo, one of the top names in training and performing various dance forms in India, organized a virtual dance-a-thon on International Dance Day 2021, to raise funds for Covid-19 relief and also to make people move, even if they can’t meet in person. “At a time like this, International Dance Day becomes even more relevant because dance brings joy to life. You can connect with multiple people, without the pressure of performance.”
But he agrees that online classes can never replace the feel of on-ground ones. “Online will never ever come to the level of off-line because of the students and teachers coming together in a studio and the dynamics of it. Nothing will replace that or the experience of performing live in a theatre. But one big advantage is that online classes have connected me to dancers all across the country,” he says.
Ashley is the founder and artistic director of The Danceworx Performing Arts Academy (TDX), one of India’s leading institutes for learning international dance and has over 15 studios across New Delhi, NCR and Mumbai. They train in international dance forms like street jazz, ballet and contemporary.
He is also the Founder & Artistic Director of Navdhara India Dance Theatre (NIDT), one of India’s premier artistic contemporary dance companies that has toured extensively with their work in several countries. But the pandemic has led to as many as four projects being cancelled. “Four dancers from our company was supposed to collaborate with six from the Netherlands, and from now to November, 25 performances were planned across countries. It was a big deal for an Indian dance company. Last year we were supposed to go to Germany for performances, that got cancelled. We have to accept the situation, cannot feel good or bad about it. We have tried creating spaces and opportunities online, creating events and doing collaborations.”
Ashley has also choreographed for about 30 Bollywood films and judged a reality show, but he does not flaunt his filmi connections. “A lot of people do not know how much work I have done in Bollywood. I have a very positive outlook towards the industry, it helps promote dance forms and connect people to them. But I do not teach Bollywood dancing because I am trained in international dance forms. There are many others who are good at teaching Bollywood dance, which is an amalgamation of various styles.”
Ashley has also observed an evolution in the international dance forms adopted by Bollywood. “20 years ago when I moved to India, I had said that there will be a film on ballet in Bollywood. Yeh Ballet released on Netflix last year with two ballet dancers as lead characters. Twenty years ago, who would have thought that there would be a Hindi film on ballet? Bollywood has also made films on the hip hop scene with the ABCD franchise. The area of international dance is always evolving and the new generation is much more global. So, naturally, films will want to reflect that. Films are also generating revenue outside, so they need to appeal to an international audience.”
Does dance need a validation from films? “I think the validation started several years ago. Within a few years of me moving to India, I was given Dhoom by Yash Raj Films. I grunged up the look, used military green, etc, as opposed to the colourful costumes used earlier. So there will always be a filmmaker who would want to do something different, create something that’s more cutting edge than what is already popular. Bollywood filmmakers also understand that they are appealing to a different audience,” Ashley opined.
He was a judge on India’s Dancing Superstar on Star Plus. But Ashley did not go on a reality show-judging spree. “I did one show, after avoiding reality shows for many years, because I am camera shy, except for when I am on stage. Also my Hindi is very bad. So that show was more of a challenge to overcome my fear,” he said.