Shall we dance?

Footloose

Shall we dance?
Choreographer Terence Lewis talks really fast. He rattles off replies even before I complete my questions. Ask him anything about dance and he talks like a person obsessed with it. But as fast as Terence is in his talk, he’s the complete opposite in his dance: his performances are all about feeling the moment, embracing oneself, and are packed with emotions.

Terence has been a ‘hyper energetic’ guy since childhood. Even though he was good at sports, he realised it was merely a physical activity. But when he stumbled upon dance, it seemed to tick off all the boxes on his ‘hyper-energy release’ list. He says, “Dance is the only physical activity that combines the physical, emotional, and the intellectual. Unlike sports, dance is not about competing with time. It’s a great stress-buster that also helps you get a sense of balance.”

His love for dance
Once he realised his love for dance, Terence delved into it with all his energy and might. What began as shows and performances in school soon turned into dance classes. With no formal training, he continued to teach even after college.

Eventually, his passion for dance led him to Alvin Ailey School in New York, where he studied dance formally. Sometime later, a German choreographer saw one of his performances in India and was amazed by the fact that he was doing such good work without any formal training. She offered him the prestigious danceWEB Scholarship at ImPulsTanz, Vienna.

Talking about his experience in Vienna, Terence says, “The choreographer believed that with proper training and skill, I could learn to push my boundaries and do a lot more. I was the first Indian to get a fully-funded scholarship to study at ImPulsTanz. It was an amazing experience to learn from some of the great masters of dance.” In a true stamp of success, two years later, Terence was offered to teach at the same centre. “This is my 11th year teaching there,” he says. 

Through the course of our telephonic conversation, Terence slips in and out of the roles of a dancer and a choreographer constantly. When he’s speaking as a dancer, he reveals what it takes to be a good dancer. “Anyone can be a good dancer, but only hard training can turn you into a great dancer. When you want to transform your dance into an art form, you need to train professionally. Also, you need to expose yourself to different art forms. Learn to be intelligent with your body and understand the science of the movements. Dancing should always look effortless, and that can happen only when your techniques are sound,” he explains.

When he dons the hat of a choreographer, Terence is busy either directing stage shows, musicals, or teaching the nuances of dance to his students at his professional training institute, or helping contestants on dance-based reality shows. One of his current projects is ‘The Kamshet Project’, a hard-hitting piece of dance and theatre, which is being performed today in Mumbai. “I, along with 10 of my dancers, went to Kamshet and isolated ourselves from the world. We utilised the time to explore ourselves, both physically and emotionally. We came face to face with our fears. The result of this week-long exercise is The Kamshet Project’,” says this 42-year-old choreographer.

Mentored by international dance master David Zambrano and directed by Terence, this production promises to be a spiritual experience for the audience. “The audience might connect with the stories of some of the dancers. The performance will also provoke questions in them. It’s either going to disturb them completely, or leave them emotionally provoked,” warns Terence.

Terence is credited for having brought contemporary dance to the fore in the country, and having created a new form of dance: Indo-contemporary. When I ask him about the specifics of both these forms, he says, “Dance is very hard to explain in words.”

“Contemporary dance is organic. It is the complete opposite of classical dance. While all classical dance forms make our body go against the gravity, in contemporary dance we work with the laws of motion. Indo-contemporary dance is when you marry the culturally-relevant aspects of Indian classical dance forms with the contemporary, while avoiding the abhinaya,” Terence explains.

Beyond cinema
Unlike other choreographers who want to scale great heights in Bollywood, Terence has constantly strived to distance himself from it. After having choreographed for films like Lagaan and Jhankaar Beats, Terence now feels that one can very easily cheat on camera. “In films, you have the liberty of cutting the sequences short; you can shoot many takes for that perfect shot; elements like lighting and clothes can make the actor look like the best dancer in the world. This is why I quit films, and it’s going to stay that way,” Terence states. And this is exactly why Terence has veered towards dance-based reality shows where the performances are pure.

The choreographer in him takes over once again when he talks about his dance training institute. “The Terence Lewis Professional Training Institute offers courses of a high quality. The dancers who perform with me today have all passed out from the institute,” says Terence.

Today, Terence tells me, he has taken up a new role, that of a scriptwriter. “Over the past two years, I have written a script, which I want to develop into a film. It’s an intense drama which has choreography as its background. I am also looking at presenting a great musical in the country and set a benchmark in the Indian theatre and production scenario. Of course, I’ll continue to teach. The transformation that happened with me after my training in Vienna and America completely changed my life. And I want all the aspiring dancers to have that right here in India,” he says.

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