The faces of fire

When Ashley Lobo left his home country for the far shores of Australia, he left behind a scene that had little to offer him. A contemporary dancer and aspiring choreographer, Lobo had struggled to find outlets for his artistic interests in India.
After 12 years in Australia, instead of staying in his comfortable environs abroad, he decided to return to India. This relocation meant that Lobo would have to start at square one, carving out the artistic atmosphere that he so desired piece by piece.
It has been 20 years since Lobo returned to Mumbai, and in that time he has seen and contributed to the first sprouts of the contemporary dance community in India.

“Contemporary dance is just starting to develop here. I have been driving it very much in India, and it’s an exciting time now. When I left here, there was nothing. Now, there’s a lot of potential. I’m passionate of my vision for potential for dance in India,” he explains over the phone.

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Lobo will visit Israel this month as part of the Suzanne Dellal International Season. He comes with his company, Navdhara India Dance Theater, performing “Agni.”

“I made the piece in 2016 in Mumbai,” says Lobo. “I was inspired by the word, which means fire. Fire is worshiped in Indian culture because it creates, purifies and destroys. The word ‘agni’ was interesting because fire can purify and kill at the same time. It’s a dichotomy of sorts. But fire also ignites passion. In the world we’re in today, there is passion everywhere.”
Lobo, 50, was born in Chembur, the son of an opera singer. His path into the arts was a smooth one, striking the musical theater scene first, before delving into modern dance. After studying at Bodenwieser Dance Theater and the Sydney Dance Company, Lobo found a place in television, appearing as a host on India’s Dancing Superstar. All the while, he developed his choreographic eye, creating work for stage and screen.

“Most of my work is collaborative and task-driven. I get my dancers to work with me on the choreography. Sometimes I give them a small phrase to start and then work on it. I believe I’m too small in the space, I know too little; collaborations are always better, as there are more receptors to receive energy from the universe.”

For a first task in “Agni,” Lobo asked his cast to imagine what the body feels like when it is being burned on the funeral pyre. “We burn the body at the time of death. I asked my dancers to look at the body and think: If we burn it, what does it feel like? If you weren’t in your body, and if you were, what it would be like? Lobo says.

Starting with such a dark image led Lobo and his crew into other difficult places. “A lot comes up during a creative process. When we look at destruction, it can be a frightfully dark space. This process was a way of going into dark spaces in ourselves, of finding those spaces that we didn’t know existed, the turmoil and trauma and getting through it.”

Lobo hopes that the emotional journey underwent during the company’s studio time will translate to the audience. “The most important thing is to engage the audience and have them continuously engaged throughout the piece. I like to be more minimal in movement. I want the body to say a lot without saying too much. I want the body to be felt more than seen.”

Navdhara India Dance Theater will perform at the Suzanne Dellal Center on July 23 and 24. For more information, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il