Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company
Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London; March 14, 2012
Shobana Jeyasingh celebrates her company’s twenty-fifth birthday with a ‘something old, something new’ double bill featuring a re-imagining, as she puts it, of her 1988 classic “Configurations” alongside her latest work, “Dev Kahan Hai?” (“Where is Dev?”).
It’s the former that quite definitely takes the honours. Driven along by what became Michael Nyman’s “String Quartet No.2” (it was originally commissioned specially for the piece), played live by The Smith Quartet, “Configurations” is an exhilarating ride. If anything, the reworking for two men and two women (it was originally a female trio) has improved the piece. Right from the off, when it bursts into high velocity action, it’s packed with so much fast footwork that it leaves you breathless. That footwork also adds some impressive percussion to Nyman’s already thrilling music. All four dancers were absolutely sensational. Every step and gesture was crystal clear, right down to detailed fingerwork. A special mention, though, for Rathimalar Govindarajoo, who exploded with power and energy every time she stepped out of the wings.
It might be fast, but Jeyasingh’s dance is also beautiful and structurally most impressive. Her dancers cross the stage time and again, and constantly switch partners. There are entrances from unexpected places and she constantly makes new patterns with her choreography that always keeps you interested. There are plenty of patterns on the floor too, courtesy of Lucy Carter’s excellent lighting that features a mosaic of constantly shifting squares.
“Dev Kahan Hai?” is rather less successful. The opening is atmospheric and very promising. Onto a hinged white screen at the back of the stage are projected a series of images of places, linked by close-ups of eyes. Like the sound, they are distorted and hazy as if being seen from a distance, or perhaps even in one’s less than clear memory. The soundtrack has similar suggestions. There are voices, but always somewhat distorted, a little like listening to a poor short-wave radio signal.
Two dancers in white, the traditional lovers, are mostly surrounded and kept apart by four others in black and wearing sunglasses. The movements of the latter, who I assume are supposed to represent the cool youth of the modern day but who look anything but, echo those of the former, although usually with a harder edge. According to the programme, “Dev Kahan Hai?” takes was inspired by the idea of the heroine waiting in anticipation of her absent lover, an enduring theme of Indian dance, painting and cinema. But Bollywood this is most definitely not. Compared to “Configurations”, this looked like a different choreographer and a different company. The dance is monochrome, unexciting and rarely has much flow or coherent structure. It often looked as if a series of outcomes from various improvisation tasks had been hurriedly stitched together. Much of the partnering in particular looked uncomfortable, almost forced. Niraj Chag’s soundscape has its moments, but as a whole this was most disappointing.
“Classic Cut” continues on tour to mac, Birmingham; The Cube, Corby; and The Brewhouse, Taunton; with further dates to be scheduled for the autumn.