1999 sees the tenth anniversary of the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company. But taking stock of that decade of work is no straightforward task, because we never see the past as we experienced it at the time.
Imagine telling your own personal history. You could do it chronologically, relating a developing sequence of events. But try remembering it, and your mind is more likely to jump around in a sprawling network of ideas and memories.
So, here are two partial and selective ways of looking at a decade of the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company. One is chronological, the other is out of sequence. One gives a brief history from then till now, the other is a network with four starting points – writing, the body, space, and time – that take different routes into the work.
Jeyasingh was trained in the classical Indian style Bharata Natyam, and her first work, Configurations, was a boldly imagined piece which set Bharata Natyam vocabulary to a commissioned score by Michael Nyman. The result was, in the words of the Independent critic, ‘like seeing the work of a jeweller expand into a powerful, confident sculpture’.
Jeyasingh’s early works developed this craftsmanship, exploring how elements from Bharata Natyam could be broken down, stripped to the core, and reassembled. The dances showed an almost prismatic sense of clarity, cleanly designed and precisely formed.
dances that hovered between the crystalline geometries of her previous work and a more sensuous, introspective and human quality
But with Making of Maps (1992) and Romance*…with footnotes (1993), she began to vary the movement much more freely, giving a broader scope to her imagination, and producing dances that hovered between the crystalline geometries of her previous work and a more sensuous, introspective and human quality of movement.
If Bharata Natyam had remained a central point of reference for Jeyasingh, Raid (1995) knocked it from centre stage by setting dance against sports movement, each vying for space. Raid was a liberating moment, giving Jeyasingh and her dancers a heightened sense of speed, a sharper dynamic range, a more contemporary vision, and above all a sense of personal freedom.
Exploring this new terrain, Palimpsest (1996) and especially Intimacies of a Third Order (1998) were wilder and more eclectic than ever before. Palimpsest suggested the complexity of modern identities, marked by a welter of memories and engaged in shifting interactions. Intimacies took the process further, giving freer rein to the dancers’ idiosyncrasies, and managing somehow to be both coherently organised and oddly off-kilter.
The 1998 Memory and Other Props was a characteristically sidelong look over her own choreographic past, while A Fine Frenzy (1999) looks forward, building on the complexities uncovered in Intimacies.