Material Men Redux
Material Men redux
Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company
7th February 2017,
Djanogly Theatre, Nottingham Lakeside Arts
Reviewed by Eric Foxley
Any new work from the Shobana Jeyasingh Company will be anticipated with bated breath by the entire dance community. We expect an enthralling new and original creation of dance movement and music. This production is no exception.
Material Men redux is a narrative piece exploring the existence and eventual ending of slavery or indentured labour in the British Empire. It lasts an hour and uses two dancers accompanied by live music from four musicians. The two dance performers have very different backgrounds, and represent those who became indentured workers and those who remained behind with their own culture. The differences in style were accentuated by the dancers' physiques, the classical dancer Sooraj Subramaniam, tall and sinewy, taking on both masculine and feminine moves, graceful, flowing movements with some sharp accents but almost ethereal at times; in contrast to the body popper Shailesh Bahoran’s slightly shorter and stockier build, exhibiting grounded and breath-taking control of body movements with robotic moves and athletic energy.
Despite the difference in dance styles the choreography enabled the dancers to meld together as one. At other times they sharply contrasted with each other, especially in the short piece where the differences became a contest of skills, reminding one of the jugalbandi form of alternating competitiveness. Only Shobana could combine such disparate styles into a choreographic whole.
The performance combines the telling of this story with the continuing struggle between maintenance of personal tradition and the absorption and development of new environments.
An important component of the design is the use of a sari. The sari acted in many different roles at different times, such as manacles for slaves, as a boat, and as a video screen.
The use of technology was carefully limited and always enhanced rather than distracted from the performance. A disembodied voice added some factual background to the narrative at various points for the benefit of any audience unfamiliar with the story.
The set was minimal, and used for different representations during the course of the programme. Members of the audience gave different but equally valid interpretations afterwards.
Another aspect of Shobana's productions which this reviewer appreciates is the use and appropriateness of live music. While one can appreciate that, for reasons of cost, most performances now use recorded music, the presence of live musicians as part of the performance adds greatly to the experience of the viewer. Material Men redux features a newly-commissioned score by acclaimed Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin including sound design by Leafcutter John. It is played live onstage by The Smith Quartet.
We should also mention the venue for this performance. The Djanogly Theatre at Nottingham Lakeside Arts is small enough for the audience to feel intimate and make them feel at one with the performers and involved in the emotions. The average age of the audience was impressively young.
This composition continues Shobana Jeyasingh's progress in ideas and creativity. Much water has flowed under the bridge since I watched Shobana's first production Correspondences at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1991. But Shobana's ability to create and surprise remain as unique and powerful as ever, long may she continue!
The production is now touring until the end of April. For details see here.