Creation, destruction and agni

At Adhyaya, Nritanrutya’s upcoming dance festival, started by dancers-choreographers Mayuri Upadhya and Madhuri Upadhya, the performance of Agni by Mumbai-based Navdhara India Dance Theatre is awaited. Performed by ten dancers trained by Indian-Australian choreographer Ashley Lobo, Agni premiered at Israel’s Suzanne Dellal Centre early last year before embarking on a three-city tour this year. With the last pit stop here in the city, Lobo talks of passion as Agni or fire. “Fire or passion has the ability to create or destroy,” he says. “So, it is a dichotomy of sorts. In order to create something you destroy something, and to destroy something you have to create something new. I call it a triangle of creation, destruction and fire.”

The performance has been described as energetic and free-flowing; the dancers move in a manner which Lobo describes as painting. It encapsulates the fact that as a dancer one does not move the body. “What you are doing is painting with your breath. The body is the breath and the dancer is a painter with which you paint the air, the floor or another dancer.”

The choreography of Agni began with the central thought of fire translating as passion. In case of his previous composition, Amaara, Lobo took the concept of indestructible or “no beginning and no ending” and worked around it. The process of choreography, however, is based on his observations of the dancers. Observing and understanding them are the keys to choreography. “If you are not able to understand the heart and the soul of the dancer, you will not be able to teach,” he explains. He elaborates on the ‘teacher’ as the biggest student in the room. “You don’t teach as much as you lead by example.” He himself trained as a dancer at Australia’s Bodenweiser Dance Centre and Sydney Dance Company. After his return to India in 1998, Lobo has founded two dance companies (The Danceworx Academy, Navdhara India Dance Theatre) and choreographed for stage productions as well as feature films like Bombay Velvet.

Calling himself a collaborator-choreographer, Lobo says he usually asks the dancers for inputs and ask them to improvise before working on the choreography. “I look at the inner body of the dancer for what’s happening inside of the dancer manifests outside. Someone aggressive on the inside will be an aggressive dancer. “ Lobo also watches for the “physical body or the visual instrument and the outer body that is the communication tool” of a dancer. The aim, he says, is to make sure that the dancer ‘unifies’ all of these on one single plane. With ten dancers on board, it is about coaxing all of them to unify their energy and rhythm. “It’s like lovemaking,” he laughs. “You have got to be connected.” Not just with themselves but also with the audience, who he believes, is an extension of the dancer. “The audience is not on the opposite side. If I can take the audience on a journey where they can see their life in the piece rather than watching the dancer’s life then I feel we have achieved what we set out to achieve.”

After the tour of Agni, Lobo plans to go to Austria where he will be guest choreographing for a dance company. This performance, titled Yama, is set to premiere in May. The theme chosen was death and since Lobo’s works talk about inevitability, it seems like he is well geared for it.  But that’s not all. Years ago, as a dance student in Australia he worked in hospitals only to observe dying patients. Calling it ‘interesting’, Lobo says, “That one hundredth of a second before death is about the highest angst and the highest peace.” Those deathly observations will come to life soon and then Lobo returns back home in Mumbai to work on the next new composition. “My dancers are trained in classical ballet and contemporary which is why I work more overseas than India because audiences and market there are friendlier to that. But having said that, since we are Indians, our content and importantly, philosophy is very much Indian.”

What: Adhyaya presents Agni by Navdhara India Dance TheatreWhen: March 29th, 7pmWhere: ADA Rangamandira

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