Shobana Jeyasingh is a choreographer of the modern world – the contemporary world of urban living, multiculturalism, globalisation and migration. It floods our daily lives with a collage of sounds and images: the motion of people and traffic, the many different scripts of shop signs, the polyglot noises of crowds. Styles and lifestyles jostle against each other, and we catch glimpses of new and unexpected encounters. And beneath these surfaces swell tides and currents that can only be imagined: the hidden histories of unknown lives, their motives and memories and desires.
beneath these surfaces swell tides and currents that can only be imagined: the hidden histories of unknown lives, their motives and memories and desires.
It is here, amongst these crossing paths, that Jeyasingh has chosen to make her home. And just as we steer our own ways through this network by means of the landmarks we inherit and the routines we create, so too does Jeyasingh in her dance works. Her points of reference are perhaps twofold: the dance style Bharata Natyam in which she was trained, and a focus on the form and composition of movement rather than on portraying particular characters or telling stories.
Jeyasingh, though, is less concerned with the landmarks themselves than with what happens between and around them. The Bharata Natyam idiom, for example, is characterised by clear lines and bodily shapes, and crisply punctuated rhythms; but she strays from its well-trodden paths, sending the style off in different directions so that it appears with different accents; or else she might play with its vocabulary to the extent that the language itself seems new, its features no longer recognisable.
That accords well with her concern with the form of movement: she is more interested in creating impressions than providing explanations. The placing, textures, energies and rhythms of the dance engage us above all through our senses, and, as in our daily lives, these surface appearances hint at undercurrents of human experience, the memories and motives of other lives.
In moving between these landmarks, the choreography evokes a semblance of people and places without ever portraying them literally. At times the groupings of dancers on stage may seem almost architectural, like an environment to move through; at other times they appear more as individuals navigating their way through the world around them, their paths intersecting with each other’s – and, finally, with ours.