Shobana Jeyasingh has made several works for different kinds of building, and thinks of these pieces as duets between the dance and their setting. For TooMortal she chose a church, because the building is already a powerful and challenging partner, dense with strong stories and sentiments.
It was the high wooden pews, where the congregation sits, that attracted her most. They presented a very particular physical space: regular rows, blocked in by aisles, contained on the outside but with detailed internal features – shelves, slopes, angles – that became a rich choreographic stimulus. The pews also afforded her a kind of visual “editing” that would have been impossible on stage, allowing the performers to pop into view or sink from sight. They form a forceful frame too: mostly, the dancers are visible only from the waist up. Offsetting such geometries, Jeyasingh chose female dancers because “their shape and ambiguity are a counterpoint to the correct angles of the pews”.
The pews are also potent metaphorical spaces. The boxes might suggest the cradle, coffins, or the body itself, and the central aisle has traditionally been an axis for a life journey: the infant begins at the font at one end, processes up the aisle in marriage, returns along it in death. Looking across the pews, Jeyasingh thought of “a wooden, wave-rocked sea, from which humans emerge and are tossed about”.
In Too Mortal, Jeyasingh sets six separate women on the wooden waters of the nave (the word itself comes from the Latin for “ship”). In a series of crosslit scenes and to a churning score, they track a combative course of expectancy, turbulence and submersion. From the chancel, the vantage point of the priest, the audience is given a vista on their voyage.