Think of Bollywood, and your mind’s eye will probably envisage something along the lines of an exotic splash of colors, high energy and high emotion. That and more will be proffered to audiences at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv between October 22 and 27 and in Beersheba on October 31 when Indian choreographer and dancer Ashley Lobo brings his Passage to Bollywood extravaganza to these shores.
The name of the musical dance show infers a sense of an introduction to the world’s biggest movie industry but also to the Indian psyche. Then again, anyone who has been to the subcontinent will know that there is far more to street-level life there than intense tales of passionate love, just as Hollywood is far from being an accurate barometer of Western civilization.
Lobo says that the production offers more than pure visual entertainment.
“Usually, what happens with Bollywood shows is that they start out as a kind of dance review. I decided that it would be nice to have a storyline, a pretty modern storyline.”
Traditionally, Bollywood plots tend to be melodramatic. But Lobo wanted to offer his public something a mite more logical and realistic.
“I wanted to show another side of India – not just the Taj Mahal and that sort of thing – and also add a little bit of humor,” he says.
That sounds like a refreshing shakeup of the regular Bollywood recipe for sustained box office success.
Lobo says that from the outset, he wanted to make Passage to Bollywood accessible to audiences all over the world and to people who may have very little knowledge of Indian culture, even of Bollywood-based fare.
“It is a very simple narrative. It is a story that could come from anywhere, with a modern Indian setting,” he says.
In fact, there is something to the show of the Hollywood of yore, when films were the magnetic stuff of dreams and escapism.
“It is about a village boy who comes to the city. It is a story that is very relatable because it is a story that can happen anywhere in the world.
The setting is very colloquially modeled,” he says.
The fusion of the universal and the Indian elements makes for an attractive and, as Lobo suggests, eminently palatable offering. The score and the choreography seem to feed off all kinds of cultural and artistic strands, including Middle Eastern rhythms, melodies and movements, and there is more than a hint of Michael Jackson-inspired dance moves as well.
Lobo says he did not consciously set out to incorporate such an eclectic swathe of styles but that the multilayered end product is probably the result of a natural process that feeds off the wealth of cultures that make up his home country.
“India is a country that has influences from everywhere. In India you have Chinese, you have Arabs, you have the whole world here with lots of influences. It’s a melting pot of many influences. I think you may have a touch here and a touch there of Arabic stuff, but that’s part of what Bollywood is anyway. There are many influences in Bollywood, and Bollywood is influenced by what happens overseas as well,” he says.
Lobo, too, has over the years taken on all manner of cultural input, partly due to the fact that much of his formal training was acquired in Australia. The 48-year-old dancer and choreographer began imbibing a whiff of the show biz world from the word go. His mother was an acclaimed opera singer and theater personality and, at an early age, Lobo gained valuable experience in the entertainment business and worked with a string of stellar local directors and choreographers, such as Karla Singh, Krishna Bhargava Salome Roy Kapoor, and gained valuable experience on Indian productions of hit musicals like Grease, Cabaret and Evita.
When he was 22, Lobo relocated to Australia, where he took dance studies at the Bodenweiser Dance Centre in Sydney, which incorporated a broad spectrum of genres, such as classical ballet, jazz and other contemporary styles. The Australian section of his bio features slots in a production of The Nutcracker with the Ballet Theatre Queensland of Brisbane, and West Side Story with the Barre Theater Company in Sydney. He also did TV work that later stood him in good stead when he became a judge on India’s Dancing Superstar reality show.
Lobo says the India he left as a young man was very different than the country he returned to years later.
“The standard of dance in India was pretty amateurish, and there was only one TV channel when I left. But when I came back, everything had changed. There were so many influences here, and there were 150 TV channels. India had changed dramatically.”
It also afforded more opportunities to someone like Lobo, particularly the varied experience of highquality dance performance he had accrued Down Under.
Passage to Bollywood includes a cast of 22 dancers who, during the course of the show, don and discard 80 different costumes and go through their paces to a background of stirring numbers that span an expansive range of human emotions. The visual impact is heightened by the incorporation of video art, with a giant screen beckoning the audience into the thick of the Bollywood psyche, with excerpts from some of Bollywood’s blockbuster productions.
Lobo says that the mix and match approach is central to the Indian psyche. “We call it a kitchari [a staple Indian stew-based dish], which is basically a goulash of everything we have here.”
Somehow, it always comes down to food, and Lobo says he is delighted to be coming back to Israel after an initial visit last year for an international dance showcase.
“I love the food in Israel and the people,” he says.
“My wife and child will join me towards the end of the shows here, and we will tour around the country.
I am sure we will have a lot of fun.”
The same can be said for the audiences in Tel Aviv and Beersheba later this month. For tickets and more information: (03) 510-5656, www.suzannedellal.org.il, *9066 and www.eventim.co.il