Emiko Ishii’s joyous choreography embraces all genres

Dancer, actor, choreographer and entrepreneur Emiko Ishii puts on dance performances that turn stereotypes on their head. British born and of Japanese heritage, Emiko has her own dance company, Epika Dance, which fuses Indian and Japanese dance, hip hop and martial arts. She’s worked on incredible projects including dancing at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, starring in feature films, and managing the choreography for Bollywood stars including Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff – as well as choreographing Anne-Marie on ‘Saturday Night Takeaway’! Here she talks about the challenges of entrepreneurship, mentoring young dancers and staying authentic.

Why did you set up your own company, Epika Dance?

“Building Epika Dance has been a labour of love, and I’m proud to offer unique fusion performances that showcase the vibrancy of Bollywood. My latest projects have allowed me to explore the blending of different dance styles, from Indian, Western and Japanese to martial arts. From choreographing dynamic routines to selecting talented dancers, every step has been meticulously planned to offer performances that mesmerise and entertain. Our clients recognise us for our professionalism and innovation in live stage shows, films, award ceremonies, music videos and corporate events. You won’t see such a vast range of dance styles and a group of individuals in one troupe anywhere else!”

What obstacles have you faced in setting up your own company?

“Undoubtedly, this path has brought its fair share of challenges, but with every obstacle I faced, the reward of cultural exchange and personal growth outweighed any difficulties.”

“As my love for Indian dance deepened, I embraced every challenge with humility and respect for this art form.”

“Paving my way as a Japanese dancer in an Indian dance community often raised eyebrows and people questioned my authenticity. But I remained steadfast in my dedication, cementing my presence through hard work, passion, and a profound understanding of the essence of Indian dance through years of training.”

What have been your most exciting recent projects?

“I was a movement consultant and Nichibu choreographer for the Nissan Formula E launch. Being a part of this project alongside choreographic director Haruka Kuroda gave me the opportunity to combine Japanese traditional dance, martial arts and weapons demonstration to the sounds of the Taiko. Similarly, I was also able to explore the blending of martial arts and dance when doing the fight design for LVRA’s music video, ‘Venom’. And working with Anne-Marie on ‘Saturday Night Takeaway’ was great. In Bollywood, it was a dream to be assistant choreographer for Tiger Shroff in ‘Heropanti 2’.

Emiko with Anne Marie – Saturday Night Live 

Tell us about your journey as a dancer?

“I fell in love with ballet at a young age. Then along the way, I started to explore other dance styles including hip hop, Indian dance and Japanese traditional dance, each adding a new dimension to my skills. I studied Kathak (Indian traditional dance) for 12 years with Guru Pratap Pawar, and Nihon-buyō (Japanese traditional dance) for 10 years under Tanka Hiroko.”

How did you get into Bollywood dancing?

“Simple! By watching Madhuri Dixit dancing in the iconic Bollywood film ‘Devdas’. In secondary school I rented the film from the library. The infectious beats, graceful movements and abhinaya (facial expression) that transcended all language barriers became a deep-rooted passion that I wanted to cultivate and nurture. So I joined my first Bollywood class and the instructor’s expertise and enthusiasm motivated me to break out of my comfort zone and explore this incredible art form. She invited me to join her company, Threebee Dance, and the rest is history.”

Why is mentorship so important to you?

“As a dance instructor for 18 years, I’ve witnessed the transformative power of dance in people’s lives. “

“It’s a privilege to mentor aspiring dancers and help them reach their full potential.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than to see students feeling empowered from seeing visible development in their skills, confidence and self expression through movement, which can lead to them building a career in dance.”

Photo credit: Fabrizio Bagnoli 

What’s your next project?

“I’m excited to launch an innovative mentorship programme and assist aspiring dancers in obtaining recognised dance certifications.”

What advice would you give aspiring artists?

“My advice to aspiring artists is to never give up on your dreams, invest in your education, surround yourself with supportive artists, and always conduct yourself with professionalism and integrity. Stay passionate, committed and resilient, and success will follow.”