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Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company

'Flicker' and 'Transtep'

Syncretic synchronicity

by Thea Nerissa Barnes

March 22-23, 2005 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London


Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company’s “Flicker” is an extraordinary syncreticity. “Flicker” presents the gestures and brisk postures of classical Indian or rhythmical sensibility embedded in conventional dance phrasing. In this work Jeyasingh’s choreographic choices present classical Indian quotes within a fabric that is overwhelmingly conventional contemporary dance. “Flicker” is a contemporary dance performed by trained dancers versed in Bharatanatyam, Odissi, martial arts, and Capoeira as well as conventional dance techniques. No longer is classical Indian dance the theme from which variations are constructed. In “Flicker”, classical Indian dance forms are motifs manipulated beyond recognition appearing as flashes within Western contemporary dance expressions.

Jeyasingh’s company presented two works, “Flicker” and “Transtep” at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Classical Indian dance has three means of expression: nritta as an arrangement of rhythmical and repetitive elements; natya. a drama or story telling expressed through gestures, poses and mime ; and nritya as a mixture of both nritta and natya. These are starting points for most dance compositions and in “Flicker” the mode is nritta. No need to infuse a metaphor of warrior dancers combating conventions or an expression that alludes to a crisis of modernity or identity. In “Flicker” we lose the proposed Jeyasingh edge of presenting classical Indian dance in a contemporary dance theatre frame. “Flicker” takes a transitional step from the clarity of distinct Indian ness to the urban cosmopolitan ness of millennium London with its particular poly cultural environment. “Flickers’s” amalgamation of Eastern and Western sensibilities with lighting by Guy Hoare, and costumes by Ursula Bombshell and digital design by Digit is a slick, particularly British contemporary dance work.

Jeyasingh’s particular amalgamation in “Flicker” begins with the dancers in a column progressing from stage left to right, offering counterpoint and an intertextual mix of rhythms. This conventional compositional strategy, and several others, affirm there is nothing new here; just the reiteration of the known even if it is done very well. This particular cultural mix, though, is what differentiates this dance and these dancers from any other dance company that uses contemporary dance composition or chooses cross cultural approaches to dance making. The linear lines of arabesque to parallel feet, low lunges to linear lines on the scrim made by Digit’s interaction designer Lars Jessen confirm the mix of sensibilities that make this work an exciting work even in its ordinaryness. With same sex duets, trios and recurring motif of a yak of the arm more tension is added in the dynamic that due to its classical Indian influences is already quite staccato. The projection on the scrim and on the floor seems decorative till the speckled digits form duplicates in its own medium what is happening on stage.

Michael Nyman collaborated with Jeyasingh in 1988 on her inaugural production “Configurations”. With the guitar playing of James Woodrow overlaying the electronic score devised by Nyman working with Jürgen Simpson, “Flicker” is a non literal evocation. Jürgen’s digit projections are fragmented illusions of the action on stage; movement of the projections providing alternative perspectives of time, space, and the same movement done by the dancers on stage. The speckled digits erase the dancers’ edge but not the dynamic of their movement; a con-fusion that satisfies those who like to see chances taken with what exist already as much as chances taken to innovate that which exist.

“Flicker” is quick, packed full of staccato, snap, and crackle of arms, legs and Indian hand and arm gestures. It also has its share of British conventional dance sensibilities with the most generic of inverted Capoeira like moves. The dancers are dynamic with Saju Hari illustrating substantial technical prowess as well as being an accomplished performer.

"Transtep 2005"

“Transtep 2005” is a manipulation of material collected by Jeyasingh from dance works commissioned from Lisa Torun, Rashpal Singh Bansal and Filip Van Huffel. Where one can assume “Flicker” is non literal, “Transtep 2005” is a combination of physical prowess overlaid with dramatic intention. Jeyasingh’s inspiration for “Transtep 2005” is from Monteverdi’s work, Il Combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda of 1624. Monteverdi’s work describes with instruments, male and female voice, a duel between a female Saracen Warrior and a Christian knight. The encounter, love or enmity, is revealed in movement first invoked by two female dancers whose postures and frenetic staccato moves set the tone for describing the encounter. With Navala Chudhari’s dancing as the Saracen warrior, the telling seems a metonym not a miming of the story. This complexity is compounded by shifts in movement composition and intertextual blending of Glyn Perrin’s music accompanying Monteverdi’s work.

The Neon lights tubes are placed on the floor stage right progressing upstage from panel one with four hanging from the rigging. A duet between two women dressed in black skirted costumes begins the dance. The neon lights obstructs the stage right space becoming an obstacle course for dancers to jump and step over. Their last sequence are moves with a clear classical Indian edge even if their body design alludes to other expressions.

This section ends with their exit lifting the lights off the floor and standing them on the light towers. Their dramatic exit clears the space for Navala Chudhari. Chudhari 's movements traverse the space passing between men then crossing upstage behind a scrim. Chudhari's reentrance turns the stage into the combat zone between her and Saju Hati with the other dancers providing complementary moves or duplicating duets. There are two accomplished duets - one performed by Chudhari and Hari, and another between Thimmaiah and Saju Hari. The dance work ends with a final leap that places Chudhari a top Hari’s back.

A critic asking why an easily discernible difference is eschewed in “global soup” simply reads that this critic missed seeing the “difference”. Maybe the difference is legitimated in this gaze, but perhaps this gaze has yet to become aware of the complexity of syncreticity. Not allowing nostalgia to sabotage an astute reading of the work perhaps it is time to acknowledge that Jeyasingh’s dances with their particular kind of Indianness have become conventional. This witness will not attempt to second guess Jeyasingh’s choreographic choices knowing the possibilities achievable by an individual who traverses several cultural affiliations. There is a richness and diversity available to one who studies and experiences classical, post colonial, urban dance making. It is best to make note of the possibilities chosen by an individual with such proliferative cultural experiences. That it is possible to amalgamate these complexities is the achievement.

Edited by Staff.

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