A Goan by roots, Ashley Lobo is a noted choreographer and is popular in the Bollywood industry and Indian TV. Here’s my little (unedited) chat with the 46-year-old artiste.
What are you currently working on?
– Highway (director Imtiaz Ali)
– One by Two (director Devika Bhagat)
– Bombay Velvet (director Anurag Kashyap)
– Boss (director Anthony D’souza)
JUDGE: India’s Dancing Superstar
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: The Danceworx Performing Arts Academy
Tell us about your debut on television and India’s Dancing Superstar. How easy/ difficult is it to judge a reality dance show?
IDS has been my debut as a reality TV judge. But I have been on TV earlier on a daily show called the ‘Good Morning India Show’ (Star Plus) where I hosted over 250 episodes of the dance fitness segment along with some senior students of The Danceworx.
IDS though has been a huge learning experience. A lot of fun and discovery about myself. I have been asked to judge other shows over the last 3 or 4 years numerous times, but I was focusing on other areas of my life and did not take them up. I have done so now because it felt right for me at this point. Also, I love the concept of IDS because it promotes dance across all ages, styles, personalities and I love that thought.
It’s not been easy or difficult from a technical stand point, but I think for me to communicate my thoughts across accurately in Hindi has been a challenge and a lot of fun! IDS has also exposed me to so many different perspectives of dance and how they are viewed. Most importantly, I have met the most lovely people and made wonderful friends like Riteish and Geeta.
When did you start The Danceworx and why?
I started The Danceworx in 1998 in New Delhi, and more recently in Mumbai. The aim was to create an awareness of international dance and to provide an opportunity to facilitate a professional understanding and training of international dance in the country. I also wanted to introduce dance into mainstream education and give it a vocational status so more people who have the gift feel confident about choosing it as a career.
How long since you’re involved with theatre and dance? How old were you when you first ventured into this profession?
I have been involved with theatre and dance for over 30 years. My actual exposure to theatre and dance was at a very young age as I grew up with it all around me. (My mother Celia Lobo was an opera singer and a musical theatre director). Even in school, I was actively involved in every play. However, I seriously started dancing on stage at the age of 15. At that time, we did shows on the weekend and got paid Rs.100 per show, which we spent immediately! We were all very passionate and loved what we did.
What led you to this career? What/ who was the inspiration?
I don’t really know! I think it all started when I did a musical called ‘Cascades’ which my mother directed. I had just come out of boarding school and had a long summer break before junior college, and my mother encouraged me to take part. The choreographer was a beautiful lady called Salome Roy Kapur who was very nurturing and encouraging to all of us amateurs who had no training. I think my becoming a dancer came about by accident! In fact, the further I went away from it, the stronger I got pulled into it. There is a saying… ‘You do not choose dance, dance chooses you’. I think I am a classic example of that.
Your Mum’s a respected opera singer and a theatre personality. Tell me about the collaborations (if any) between the duo. If yes, how was it working with your mum?
Working with my mother has been interesting to say the least because we have very different ideas creatively. We have not collaborated much except for a few amateur productions and that was fun. I’ve learnt a lot from her also as youngster growing up, just watching her work.
You moved to Sydney in 1989. Tell us about your days there.
In Sydney, I worked in a hospital to put myself through dance school. It was very difficult as I would start work at 6 in the morning and go on till 2:30 in the afternoon. After that, I would go to dance class and do 5 hours of dance daily. It was very exhausting but I learnt some of my most valuable lessons of life in that phase. I learnt not just about dance, but about myself. I learnt the difference between being alone and lonely. I learnt the value of time and money. And while working at the hospital, I learnt how to love strangers and make them family. I learnt that life is very fragile and can be all over the place, and how not to take it all seriously. Most importantly, I learnt the best dance and how to laugh at myself and love myself all at the same time.
You are also a theatre teacher. How easy/ difficult is it to teach someone theatre and why?
For me, theatre is life. You do not teach it. You play, you experiment, you try different things and see how they turn out. All art, from my observation, is about watching life and reproducing it. Mediums may be different but the material is the same. I think for me, a dance studio is this huge human laboratory in which we challenge ourselves with thoughts and circumstances and see what comes out. It’s a place where we confront ourselves and challenge ourselves. It’s all a lot of fun. One cannot take it too seriously. I cannot see it being difficult or easy as it’s all playtime.
What are the challenges you face as a choreographer?
International dance in India is at a very nascent stage. Likewise, the audiences at large are not fully aware and have a lot of catching up to do, so a lot of times you cannot necessarily do the kind of work you would like to do as it would not connect with them. Also, developing dancers means they have to follow through with their training and do it professionally long term. Most young dancers, for practical reasons, shift out of dance just as they are about to discover their real dance. That point is where one can create the most interesting choreography on the dancer but they move on and so one is constantly working with a younger crop with limited training and experience. This however is changing rapidly, thankfully, as now dance is being taken a little more seriously as a vocation.
Take us back to where you were born, your school days and you as a Goan.
I was born and raised in Chembur in Mumbai. I moved to Australia when I was 21-years-old. I currently live in Juhu. I went to a boarding school called St. Marys in Mt. Abu, Rajasthan followed by college at St. Xavier’s in Mumbai. My father’s family is from Camurlim and my mother’s side is from Mandrem. I love Goa and go there at least 4 or 5 times in the year, if not more. In fact, I travel to Goa at any opportunity I can get! I understand Konkani but unfortunately I don’t speak the language… but that’s something I intend to change very soon.
Where do you see yourself five years down the line?
My aim in the next 5 years is to spread The Danceworx into more cities and satellite towns in India and create more dance awareness and opportunity. My dream is also to set up a full-time dance centre in Goa.