Indian-Australian choreographer Ashley Lobo has become a household name in the international dance scene in India, having choreographed extensively for stage and cinema, with over 30 films—including those like Cocktail (2012), Bombay Velvet (2015) and Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017)— and stage productions to his credit. He was a judge on Star Plus’s reality programme, India’s Dancing Superstar. He is currently working on two films for an OTT platform and two fashion ad films, as well as virtually choreographing for Company E, a dance company in the US, for performances to raise awareness on climate change.
Q\ How has the pandemic impacted your plans?
A\ The isolation, cabin fever and social distancing have impacted all of us. I, too, had been hospitalised after getting Covid-19. Economically, our business was severely impacted. When physical classes moved online, out of four students only one or two would attend them. But then, opportunities started opening up when I realised that there was so much we could do online. We started collaborating with companies from America, Japan, the Netherlands and Germany. Earlier, I would never have thought it possible that I could sit here and choreograph for a company in another country.
Q\ Can you tell us a bit about the Prana Paint technique of dance that you pioneered?
A\ It is based on the premise that you should paint your space with your prana or your breath. Your body should be your paint brush. As you shift the energy, the audiences should feel it. [I formulated it in] Israel, when I had just finished a yoga course. A couple of Israeli companies asked me to do workshops on it, and it took off from there.
Q\ In your 35 years in the dance field, what have been your biggest learnings?
A\ The more I discover, the more I realise how much I do not know. When I was younger, I would come with a set choreography that I had written down, which would not be up for debate. Now, I go into a space, engage with different dancers and see what I can learn from them. The more I grow, the more I become like a child, curious to know more.
Q\ How would you describe your style of choreography?
A\ I tell narratives in abstraction. This is very big internationally, but not in India. Here, it is all about commercial dance. Abstract dance is like a modern painting, with many emotions trapped in the canvas. Or like a sunset. There is no story or message, but you are engaged.