Ashley Lobo curates stories that lifted spirits and brought hope around the world. Celebrating dancers who spread the message of empathy and synergy in 2020.
In a roller-coaster year when nothing went as planned, creative souls and artists all over the world dealt with the pandemic in unique ways.
Barcelona’s Liceu opera opened in June with plants for an audience. Doctors and nurses battled the pandemic blues by dancing in PPE suits.
People organised balcony concerts in Spain and Italy and Indian Australian choreographer, dancer, and educator Ashley Lobo learnt to reframe movement in contained spaces during the lockdown.
He says, “This year more than any other has taught me to look for silver linings in dark clouds. It was inspiring also to see how dancers globally expressed themselves during this difficult time.”
He shares some of his favourite dance-related moments with us:
1. A young Indian gets admission into the English National Ballet School
What can be more life-affirming than the example of Kamal Singh, the young son of a rickshaw driver in Delhi who discovered ballet and became the first Indian to be accepted into the prestigious English National Ballet School in London?
This a story of the power of dreams and miracles at a time when so many of us felt browbeaten by the pandemic. On sheer merit, he got a full scholarship in a ballet school in Delhi and is now on his way to be an international ballet dancer.
2. When Astad Deboo paid a tribute to migrant labourers
Late contemporary dancer and choreographer Astad Deboo was considered to be an institution by many generations of artistes.
Says Ashley, “He was an inspiration to so many of us and a pioneer in so many ways. It is hard to believe that he is gone but his whole life is an affirmation of art’s triumph over adversity. Just a few months before he passed, he choreographed a piece called ‘Boundaries’ in Mumbai while his dancers recorded it in Delhi as a tribute to migrant workers. He was 73 and danced till the very end. If that is not inspiring, I don’t know what is.”
3. When classical dancers “broke the chain”
From Mohiniyattam in Palakkad to Kathak in Delhi, a chain of positivity and hope was formed by Indian classical dancers in 2020. And it all started with Palakkad-based dancer Methil Devika who created a dance piece called ‘Break the Chain.’
Delhi-based Kathak dancer, Mrinalini too danced to a poem, encouraging people to choose hope over fear. Photographer and sarod student Innee Singh then collaborated with writer Shraddha Singh to create an ensemble piece, ‘Hum Hain Saath’, which featured Kathak, Odissi and Bharatanatyam dancers. And the dance movement went viral. Says Ashley, “For dancers and artistes, this year has been challenging because we could not access performing spaces.
The fact that so many dancers continued to connect with the world at large, brought much collective hope. I also taught students online, organised workshops and even contributed an excerpt from my piece ‘Agni’ for a fund-raising gala. Bertolt Becht asked if there would be singing in dark times, well, here is my answer. There will be dancing as well!”
4. When even a PPE suit could not stifle the will to dance
Silchar-based doctor Arup Senapati has been saving lives during the pandemic but he also cheered up millions of Indians when he showed off his indomitable spirit and extraordinary dance moves in a PPE suit. From Madhuri Dixit to Hrithik Roshan, everyone was inspired and transfixed. His video garnered over 5.3 million views on Twitter.
5. How we found a way to stay connected and keep dancing
The pandemic impacted Ashley too but he and his team did whatever they could to stay motivated. He says,
“Teaching students online was a new experience and kept everyone’s morale up. In the absence of dance shows and performances, we stayed connected virtually and that was really memorable. Another highlight was to host workshops, virtual of course where we invited international choreographers like Jake Kodish, Brian Freidman and many more to teach Indian dancers via Zoom calls. What we learnt in the process was that even a pandemic cannot stop us from really expressing ourselves.”