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Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company

'Faultline' and 'Bruise Blood'

by David Mead

October 22, 2009 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Shobana Jeyasingh’s return to Dance Umbrella featured two works that highlight her trademark fusion of contemporary dance and Indian themes and influences.  Although both pieces have non-white men in trouble as their starting point, they are likely to connect with teenagers whatever their background.  Having said that, those themes are not over-emphasised, and you never feel she is making a political statement.

The evening opened with the much admired “Faultline”, now a set work to be studied for GCSE Dance (general certificate of secondary education exams), a fact doubtless responsible for the large number of young people in the audience, something to be celebrated whatever the reason.

The work reflects the tensions and contradictions of Asian youth, particularly men, in the UK today.  The street scenes and close ups in an opening video are immediately reflected in a dance for three men, and give instantly a sense of time and place.  Although their gesture and demeanour suggests shared experiences and even friendship, there is always a sense of competition between them.

Jeyasingh’s frequently stylised, fast, energetic choreography is just like the world it depicts, full of Western and Asian flavours, and completely mesmerising.  Within it, she adds clever touches that emphasise the everyday and the real person, such as the men smoothing the hair back, straightening the tie, or brushing one’s shirt.  She weaves her dancers in highly complex ways with ever changing duets and trios.  It is edgy and always tension-filled.  Some of the male-female duets are almost violent.  It frequently seems as if the men in particular are but one step away from exploding.  Yet there are sensitive moments too, as when one of the men rests his head on one of the girl’s arms.

The whole mood of the piece is somewhat paradoxically added to by soprano Patricia Rosario’s beautifully layered, often lyrical live singing, mixed with electronically manipulated recordings of her voice by Scanner.

Jeyasingh’s new piece “Bruise Blood” was less effective.  Her starting point was similarly disaffected non-white youth as well as Steve Reich’s 1966 work “Come Out,” the words for which were originally spoken by a man wrongly arrested for murder during the Harlem riots of 1954. Reich’s score was subsequently developed in collaboration with composer Glyn Perrin and with additional live music by beatbox artist Shlomo.  “Beatbox” means he makes music using only his mouth, although in the show he also uses a loop pedal that allows him to layer up samples of his voice. The end choreography draws mostly on the dancers’ own biographies.

The dancers never seemed totally at home with the piece, somewhat strange if it was truly autobiographical.  Perhaps the problem was the young, bespectacled, livewire Shlomo.  His first appearance, right at the beginning seemed rather contrived.  He does no more than announce himself via a short ‘musical’ solo.  It certainly warmed up the young audience, who fairly predictably whooped and hollered their approval, but it also sent a very clear message that this was about him, and he was the star.

Shlomo’s later contributions were much more part of the piece, but he was constantly moving as he made all sorts of strange and interesting sounds via the microphone.  A very natural, and uninhibited mover, he bounced around the stage with lots of pointing gestures in particular.  He seemed totally unaware that anyone was watching.  And he almost always drew the eye away from the dancers.  On his blog he headlines his work on “Bruise Blood” as “Shlomo vs Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company”, which says a great deal.  A competition was sometimes how it seemed - and he won.  It would be an interesting experiment to dance the piece with his contribution recorded because, in the end, it was Shlomo who stayed in the memory, not Jeyasingh’s choreography or dancers.

For once this autumn, the programme made no claims about being in the spirit of Diaghilev or the new work celebrating him.  Having said that, Jeyasingh’s unusual musical collaboration with Shlomo, very much an artist of today who connects with today’s youth, was not only worthwhile, but, I suggest, has rather more to do with that spirit than many of the other works on show that make much greater play of the link.

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