Sunday Herald: All the feels

Spiffy and nimble, choreographer Terence Lewis sets the world of dance ablaze with his mean moves

Terence Lewis, choreographer, shilpi madan

He’s done with movies. After choreographing superb moves in Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela, Lagaan: Once Upon a Time In India, Jhankaar Beats, Helen, he took to acting as a judge on a multitude of dance shows on the telly — Chak Dhoom Dhoom, Dance India Dance, Nach Baliye, So You Think You Can Dance... “I have stopped choreographing for Bollywood films,” he says with a sigh. It has been five years now. Why? “I do not believe in retakes, I simply thrive on that sense of adventure and thrill of a single-take that performances on stage and television bring along,” he says. Terence Lewis, one of the most highly sought-after choreographers in the country, certainly minces no words.

Old school

“Honestly, today, songs in movies have been reduced to an excuse for people who are either not talented or do not have time to rehearse. That is why I love telly shows as there are no retakes,” he says. The glamour quotient of the filmi act holds no appeal for Lewis. “For me, choreographing ‘Ang Laga De’ in Ram Leela... was a thrilling experience as it included a spot of real choreography, emotions, love and lust. I like creating dances that have a story woven in. Mostly in films, there is too much dependence on camera angles, prosthetics (make-up, hair, costumes), and the frame is filled up with many dancers and exotic locations. I feel the essence of choreography gets lost. Call me old school, but the focus needs to be on dance. I like performances when you didn’t have so many elements to help technology-wise, when you had to actually dance and hold the camera, like how Waheeda Rehman, Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit did in the 60s, 70s and 80s.”

Perhaps, that is why Terence has plunged into the telly canvas as a celebrity judge on dance shows, doling out pearls of wisdom to those who aspire to be in his shoes someday. “I am happy in this space as being a mentor, guru, teacher comes naturally to me. Since I have always been a dance teacher, it is an organic growth for me, reaching out to so many others through these shows,” he confesses. “I enjoy the experience of watching new, talented individuals perform with expertise.”

Few know that Lewis was deeply immersed in theatre and wanted to become an actor before he took the plunge to become a dance master. He holds a degree in Hotel Management and even in Psychology and Sociology. Something that perhaps holds him in good stead in understanding the psyche of the participants on the shows, and in guiding them gently on national television.

From mind to body

“I borrow a lot from life, deeper emotions, complexities of the human psyche. So, a lot of my contemporary choreography explores the intriguing layers of the human psyche. We say something, we mean something, we feel something and we do something else. This is bizarre but that is how we function most of the time,” he shares wistfully.

He looks up to Pina Bausch, the famous German performer and ballet director — “I think she is simply amazing”; Susanne Linke, the neo-expressionist choreographer — “my mentor and guide”; and David Zambrano, the monumental figure in the international dance arena —“again a brilliant choreographer and dancer.” What does Lewis count as his biggest learning? “Contemporary dance,” he retorts, “as it has taught me how to stay grounded, protect my body, and dance with zest and passion. I believe that the more you hold, the less you receive, the more you let go, the more comes to you. I feel the principles of contemporary dance are deeply knitted into the philosophy of life. For me, contemporary dance is a way of life.”

Lewis crafted the moves on the Broadway musical Beauty and the Beast with Disney recently. “It was a challenge to fit into the shoes of a Broadway-style production, and yet outdo it. I have seen the versions in New York and London and felt it was up to me as a new age choreographer to offer something completely new. We redesigned, re-choreographed and made the show a visual spectacle with multiple elements of dance and style to blow away everyone’s mind.”

As of now, Lewis is busy working on putting together his own Indian Broadway musical, to be staged on Broadway or West End. As for those who aspire to be in his shoes, he has a piece of advice: “Find your own journey, your own voice and your own way. Learn to take a chance, be flexible yet persistent, and work towards excellence with complete passion. The rewards will flow in on their own.”

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Sunday Herald: All the feels

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