September 17 2015
Standing ovation for radical new piece which sees contrasting styles pitted together in a special double bill and Q&A deepens understanding…
By Tasha Mathur
CHOREOGRAPHER Shobana Jeyasingh is well-known for creating uniquely detailed dance performances over the past 25 years.
The Chennai-born British based Jeyasingh’s critically acclaimed dance works have aimed to touch upon the important issues of cultural integration in the modern day and provoked many discussions and debates.
Last night, there was a World Premiere for the piece, “Material Men”.
With the performance involving one classically trained Indian dancer and one hip-hop artist, curiosity got the better of me and it’s safe to say, I wasn’t left disappointed.
Held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, the evening began with Jeyasingh’s “Strange Blooms”, which was a visual treat in itself.
Created in 2013 to celebrate 25 years of her dance company, this ensemble piece explores the cellular life of plants through the human body as eight incredibly talented dancers contort their bodies in unimaginable ways to produce a highly energetic performance that left me captivated from start to finish. The seamless synchronisation and relationship between each dancer was a feat to appreciate.
With my breath truly taken away with “Strange Blooms”, “Material Men” then proceeded to leave me utterly speechless.
Bringing together Indian classical dancer, Sooraj Subramaniam and hip hop dancer, Shailesh Bahoran, the piece focuses on the two contrasting dance styles that somehow beautifully worked together in true Jeyasingh style.
Beginning with a voiceover of the two dancers’ biographies, it’s clear that the fact that both are from the Indian diaspora is an integral part of the performance.
In a Q&A afterwards, Jeyasingh explained that what drew her to both dancers is, “that these were two Indian men, part of the Indian diaspora who made completely different choices in dance”.
And the idea of diaspora is manifested in the set itself, which consists of a series of tall bars across the stage with small gaps in between to allow both dancers to move through them.
Jeyasingh explained how this represents the literal boundaries of migration and movement while also metaphorically representing the minds of people from the diaspora, who are often torn between two cultures.
By allowing the dancers to move through what Jeyasingh calls, ‘the fence’, it not only highlights the back and forth nature of this conflict but the ability to be a part of both cultures.
The talent of both dancers is also highlighted when they interact with each other through a piece of saree cloth.
While Subramaniam and Bahoran unravel, wrap and writhe in the fabric, I could feel the tension between both dancers and essentially, both forms of dance.
Jeyasingh explained how this saree stands for history and memory and perhaps could even be seen as a material form of Shiva, the Hindu God of Dance.
When producing pieces that aim to amalgamate two contrasting styles, there is a danger of watering down both in order to make them work together.
However, Jeyasingh was adamant this wouldn’t be the case. “I looked at bringing out the unique quality in each dancer and wanted to make those qualities more extreme.”
While “Material Men” showcases a pure manifestation of both Bahoran’s and Subramaniam’s dance forms, they also both beautifully complement each other and produce a tension that is truly captivating to watch. The standing ovation and roar of the audience really said it all.
ACV rating: ‘Material Men‘ ***** (out of five)
‘Strange Blooms’ *****
Main photo: ‘Material Men’ by Chris Nash
There is one more performance of ‘Strange Blooms’ and ‘Material Men’ in London: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/shobana-jeyansingh-dance-2015-91487
Then it tours: Cheltenham, Brighton, Swansea, Aberystwyth – click here for details
For more information on Shobana Jeyasingh and her dance company, please see http://www.shobanajeyasingh.co.uk/
Shobana Jeyasingh and 25 years http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/shobana-jeyasingh-dancing-like-an-indian/