Interview: Shobana Jeyasingh - from Bharatha Natyam to beatbox

Thursday 22 October 2009

Shobana Jeyasingh, 2009Photo: Chris Nash Choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh makes work which combines the influences of her training in Bharatha Natyam, the classical dance of South India, with contemporary Western dance styles and even ballet, in unique and fascinating ways. It is characterised by her driving, intellectual curiosity and has included embracing new technology – Interland linked live performances at Greenwich Dance Agency and on a roof top in Bangalore – as well as collaborations with designers and composers – including Michael Nyman.

She formed her own company in 1988 and over the years has recieved numerous accolades, including two Time Out dance awards and a nomination for a South Bank Show Award, an MBE in 1995 for services to dance and last year an Asian Woman of Achievement Award for her contribution to the arts in Britain.

Shobana is preparing for the premiere of Bruise Blood, her latest work which includes a beatbox remix of Steve Reich’s influential Come Out, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 21 October, but she found time for a few questions…

Do remember the first thing that sparked your interest in dance? **My mother was interested in dance and sent me to dance class. She also used to collect pictures of Indian dancers from magazines for me to look at. The stars of Indian cinema were always dancers which was an added allure!

Where did you study dance? **I studied dance in Sri Lanka initially. My training was in Bharatha Natyam, the classical dance of South India.

Early on in your career you toured as a solo Bharata Natyam performer. Do you still practise? **I stopped dancing when I started to choreograph.

Tell us about the work you’re about to premiere at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as part of Dance Umbrella (21 & 22 October)
My new work Bruise Blood is inspired by the idea of remixing as well as Steve Reich’s Come Out.

What fascinated me about Come Out was its utter persistence. It has the inevitability of a huge wave that builds up inexorably towards its own dissolution.

I found the fact that there are remixes of *Come Out* equally fascinating – how one can re contextualise and transport things into unlikely settings to create new orthodoxies.

Where did the idea for the beatbox remix come from? **From a conversation about Steve Reich at the Southbank Centre restaurant. Shlomo, the beat boxer that I am working with, is a resident artist there.

A lot of artists have worked with Come Out. In dance Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker used it in Fase. Are you conscious of responding to Reich’s music differenrtl, or are there responses that you share? **Although I have seen De Keersmaerker’s work and admire it I have not seen her response to Come Out.

My starting point was the political context to the words that start the music. The voice and the words belong to Daniel Hamm, the young black man who was arrested by the police during the Harlem race riots of the sixties.. The words are *“I had to open the bruise up and let the bruise blood come out to show them.”* His blood was the only evidence he had to prove that he had been brutalised by the police. The pragmatic defiance of this statement is what I took from the music. The mathematics of Reich’s loops give expression to the tenaciousness inherent in the words even as the words themselves lose their literal meaning as the music progresses.

Like Daniel Hamm’s ‘Bruise Blood’ we come out to show evidence of ourselves as dancing bodies with our particular tangled and remixed histories.

It’s been a busy year for you – this is the second premiere after Just Add Water? in the spring. That was the first work in which you’ve used speech. How do you feel about it now, will you use it again? **I am still processing the after effects of_ Just Add Water?_ ! I think if the concept demands it I can see myself using voice again.

And you were also choreographer for a National Theatre/Tara Arts production of Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album. Did you enjoy being part of a large production team on a theatre production? **Yes it was good to work again with director Jatinder Verma. The National Theatre is a great place to work in and I only wish that contemporary dance had an equally well resourced and supportive national facility.

After Bruise Blood, what’s next for you? **Catching up on some down time and a trip to Beijing to attend the premier of a dance work I made there in June.

If your life’s work wasn’t dance, what else would you have liked it to have been? **I honestly can’t think of a single other occupation!

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company 'Faultline' 21-22 Oct.09. Queen Elizabeth Hall. Dance Umbrella. Photo: Chris Nash Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company ***_Bruise Blood / Faultline*_
_*_Wed 21 & Thu 22 Oct*
Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre **”more details/online booking“:

Dance Umbrella logo 2009

More on Shobana Jeyasingh: **“ (null)”:

Watch an excerpt from Faultline:

What’s On