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“Theatre encompasses all arts including dance,” says Ashley Lobo on World Theatre Day

Ashley Lobo’s choreography for Washington DC

The choreographer and educator says theatre will always be relevant in a world hungry for stories

On the occasion of World Theatre Day (March 27), Australian-Indian choreographer and educator Ashley Lobo recalls his deep ties with theatre and how it has enriched him as a performer and a human being. Looking back at his creative journey, he says, “Theatre has been a big part of my life. As a dancer, my first stage appearance was in musical theatre for an amateur production called, ‘Cascades’ that went on to do over 100 odd performances. Then, of course, I transitioned to independent choreography and at 21, my first major musical theatre piece was, ‘West Side Story’ and it was staged at the Kamani Theatre in Delhi. I started with story-based musical theatre and have choreographed classics like, ‘Fiddler On the Roof,’ ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and many more. Then I moved on to do abstract contemporary dance theatre which is layered and  a new interest for me now. ‘Amaara’ and ‘Agni’ are just two examples of what I do. But theatre is the common thread in everything I have done so far. And it has given me so much.”

Theatre is an all-encompassing art form and has a special connection with dance because both involve structured movement and a narrative, says Ashley and adds, “Be it dance or drama, the stage is a space where movement unfolds within a fixed frame. Content is important because you do not have the luxury of editing out the parts that do not work. There are no retakes. A performance, be it of an actor or a dancer,  is what it is. And for both, the satisfaction of interacting with a live audience is a surpassing experience. No true performer would ever dream of giving it up.”

It is this fulfilling joy that he wanted to transmit to his students and that is why he created NIDT (Navdhara India Dance Theatre, a contemporary dance company). He says, “NIDT was formed because India had no representation in the space of contemporary dance theatre based out of ballet or Western forms. Indias representation on the international platform was mainly bollywood dancing, folk forms or classical dance. If it was contemporary it was based on the classical forms. I wanted our dancers to go global with their skills and I think it was a good decision because audiences overseas are pleasantly surprised whenever NIDT students perform contemporary dance theatre on international platforms.”

Ashley does not think the digital age will ever replace the joy that theatre communicates and elicits. He says, “Theatre and cinema tell stories that the audiences crave and stage in particular is the space where artists and the audience connect in a very organic way. Nothing can replace that. Yes, to move with the times, we will have to create interesting theatrical content for the digital medium as well. We will also see a lot of hybrid creative forms combining technology, theatre and movement. New innovations and experiments will also draw more and more youngsters to get involved with the arts. Theatre will live on.”