It’s twenty years since choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh founded her own company. Introducing a special anniversary programme, Southbank Centre head Jude Kelly rightly noted that Jeyasingh’s pioneering work has always seemed a few steps ahead of its audience, and that it changed the landscape of dance in this country. There followed a talk between Jeyasingh and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, interspersed with brief performed excerpts from pieces made over the last decade. For anyone interested in the threads connecting art and culture, this was tantalising stuff, with Jeyasingh touching artfully on ideas about the stage space, migration, classicism, artifice and integration – and rather outclassing an underprepared Alibhai-Brown in the process.
But the real value lies in the work rather than in its ideas, and the performance of Jeyasingh’s latest piece, Bruise Blood, showed what talk and excerpts could not: when it comes to composition – the development, arrangement and interaction of phrases and motifs – Jeyasingh can outclass most. Her score mixes three sources: Steve Reich’s tape loop Come Out, live beatboxing by vocal artist Shlomo, and electronic transition sequences by Glyn Perrin. The opening – a sliver of light scanning a lineup of eight dancers, who step forward into skewed, defensive postures – has overtones of an identity parade. But instead of drawing out a story, Jeyasingh uses the scene to build an elaborate kaleidoscope of actions and reverberations. It’s like watching the throbs, splatters and spikes of digitised sound visualisations: sometimes the choreography becomes almost inchoate, like white noise, but then it coalesces into shape-shifting figures made of long leans, a jagged gesture, a gyroscope spin, or a killer glance. It’s a restless, unsettled world that Jeyasingh conjures up, one that always seems a few steps ahead of you – if also a little ahead of a couple of the dancers.