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Home Meets Home
hair didn't speak to me constant noise
“Even now it’s difficult to fully understand the things I saw — temples, markets, streets and theatres — never asleep. The masses of people, constant noise and the intense smells. Sometimes I did wish to have some time alone, away from the crowd and the noise, maybe that is the Scandinavian in me, seeking solitude. Teaching workshops in India was great. It is always refreshing to be surrounded by people who are genuinely interested in dance and movement. But this happens in UK as well. I think the language of movement is quite universal and therefore easier to communicate though differences as long as you have people around you who are willing to explore and not settle for the known knowledge but adventure beyond.”

Noora Kela  Dancer, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company
mystery of abstraction
lingering in the past
mudras
“The conditions in India were different than in the UK but people were very positive. The contact between people is closer and with more time. The audience was really enthusiastic about the work and they have a different approach. They could recognize small details like the mudras and that brings another layer. I felt that they read the choreography in an other way. They got deeper into Shobana’s choreography.
When I was teaching I noticed that our sense of space, projection, travelling were unfamiliar. I felt that they dance in their own space. Very self-contained.”

Jose Agudo  Dancer, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company
Baratha Natyam
sacred
no Indian-ness hesitancies
structure and speed
maybe because
sacred geography
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e-flyer
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the view from the wings
  Homecomings  
  JyotiMumbai
In a city of film making and celluloid trickery we struggle to project our films in the theatre to a satisfactory standard!

At the end of our performance a large group of enthusiastic young dancers from a dance company that specialises in choreography for Bollywood films and musicals stay back to chat and enthuse. They relate to the athleticism of my dancers and Roxor beat boxer. In fact Roxor is a hit wherever we go and has his own cyber following!

 
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  A very celebrated classical dancer is kind enough to attend my talk at the venue the next day. She wonders why there is no stillness/silence in my work. The answer seems to lie in the barrage of sound outside our hotel. We are at the western most edge of India with the rhythm of the sea insinuating stories both of persistence and change. The sea of traffic both human and vehicular adds to the sensory overload.

There are press interviews right up to the end as I make my exit still explaining who I am and what I do!

All too soon it is time to pack up and go home from home.

 
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spacerThe location of home and the search for Indian-ness
 
  Jyoti On journeys to the airport, between tech rehearsals, or in the privacy of her hotel room, Shobana Jeyasingh and her dance company seemed to be the pick of the week during the 10 days we travelled through India. The Indian press, one of the oldest and largest in the world, was an abiding, and tenacious presence leading up to and during our tour. In India, more than 300 newspapers are read by over 160 million people per day in India. There is no shortage of reporters looking to publish something novel, exotic or uncanny in their daily papers. Questions about SJDC’s “dance ideology,” Shobana’s bharata natyam roots, and the company’s response to the 7/7 London bombings often led to a discussion of choreographic process, British-ness and why a dance about disaffected British Asian youth would be of any interest to Indians in India.

A common thread running through much of the press coverage was an historicisation of Shobana’s Indian roots, her arrival in the UK to study English Literature, and her subsequent adoption of Britain as home. In Screen, Rinky Kumar writes, “As a child, Shobana Jeyasingh was enrolled into Bharatanatyam classes by her mother. Though she enjoyed herself, seven-year old Shobana never imagined that one day she would become an exponent of contemporary dance in the United Kingdom.” Ponnu Elizabeth Mathew of The New Indian Express describes how this “Chennaite first made her way to [the UK] burying her face in the eulogised pages of Shakespeare. And The Hindu, one of India’s most esteemed newspapers, described how “Shobana’s work is rooted in her experience as a British Asian and explores the conflicts between diverse personal and cultural origins.” Shobana’s development from a dancer into a choreographer, her personal journey from India to the UK, and the categorisation of her nationhood, often structured the press’ contextual frame for reading the contents of her work and identity.

Returning home to Shobana’s geographic origins was also a theme that emerged consistently. Nigel Britto’s insightful article dated 6 November, 2011 for The Times of India, begins with “It’s a homecoming of sorts,” subtly pointing to the complex ambiguities of how home is defined. Britto suggests that though threads of Indian-ness “pop up” throughout her work, even while living in Britain for almost three decades, the central theme of Shobana’s work is “social integration.” The search for Indian-ness in Shobana’s work, coupled with the identification of its inherent British-ness, informed many writers approach to making sense of what they anticipated or saw on stage.

“Homecoming with a spring in her steps,” was another headline used to describe Shobana’s return journey. This particular article, written in an interview format, highlights the inspiration that cities hold for this choreographer and how her “dance ideology” is an “ideology of cosmopolitan cities which harbour the desire to engage in an open dialogue with [d]ifference. Other newspapers emphasised the choreographer’s fascination with the texture, velocity and heterogeneity that cities share. The New Indian Express inset a quote wherein Shobana states, “I see a bigger difference between the people of London and an English Village than London and Bangalore.” Cities, as the two quotes by Shobana suggest, accommodate an exploration of difference that city culture nurtures. Whereas the press differentiated Shobana’s British-ness, or British Asian-ness, as a distinguishing trait of her work, Shobana quite aptly implied that cities, by nature of their substance and form, allows for difference to thrive, thus, enabling contemporary dance to be read from multiple locations of difference.

Nonetheless, writers took lengths to ask Shobana questions about what it all meant. Shobana often responded with quotes that may have unintentionally appealed to their custom of reading dance through story-driven lenses. Stories about the 1964 Harlem Riots and Gautam Malkhani’s novel, Londonstani,

 
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  provided narrative structures through which to interpret these abstract, conceptual works. One title from Daily News and Analysis, described Faultline with the title, “Capturing the horror of the London Bombings through Dance,” and posited that the “subject” of Shobana’s work, was the 7/7 bombings in London and how “this choreography showcases the horror unleashed by the London underground bombings...as it captures the dismay of terrorism, a global phenomenon. While Faultline may partly been inspired by the events of 7/7, it was indeed not the focus. And in a press conference in Bangalore, one journalist challenged Shobana’s choice of using the 7/7 bombing as an impetus for making Faultline. The journalist asked why did she not make work based on the 26/11 attacks in Bombay that would appeal more to Indian audiences?

While most of the press articles highlighted the narrative thrust of Faultline and Bruise Blood or explored the human-interest angle that strove to categorise Shobana by her nationality, awards, and dance background, some of the press took a more sensationalist approach. One particular photo in The Times of India on 9 November, 2010 taken at Chowdiah Memorial Hall in Bangalore, was titled “Black Magic.” The female dancers appeared to be swooning under the spell of the male dancers who held them. The title suggests an exoticisation of Shobana’s work, via an application of occult mysticism that turned the Orientalist tables on these western performers. On the other hand, the editor might have deployed a double entendre, by signalling the British Black, an ethnic identity under which Asian Indians, like Shobana, were included before BME, Black, Minority and Ethnic became the more utilitarian institutionalised label.

For the most part, rigorous dance criticism was scarce among most journalists who wrote about the work, notwithstanding one of India’s most renowned dance critics, Leela Venkatraman. In her review of Bruise Blood and Faultline, Venkatraman astutely notes the embedded globalism that pours through Shobana’s oeuvre. Though she, like almost every other journalist writing about SJDC India debut, emphasises both Shobana’s Indian origins and British citizenship, this critic goes a step further and theorises how choreography transcends ethnic binaries and responds to the mutability of a city like London which encompasses the practice of a form like bharata natyam. However, while Venkateswaran compliments the impeccable bharata natyam phrases performed by SJDC dancer, Avatara Ayuso, in Faultline, she also maintains, “no Indianess characterised this unique creation.”

The Deccan Herald also offered a review of Shobana’s work, albeit a more descriptive one. The writer described the performance as an exciting and cutting edge mix of forms, influences and dances styles [with] contemporary hip hop and beat box [sic] and most importantly themes inspired by current affairs.” While Ms. Venkataraman’s review examines questions of identity, and acknowledges Shobana’s deconstruction of bharata natyam, The Deccan Herald review is less burdened by defining the politics of the dance’s representations. Instead, the review is more complimentary of the work as a successful form of entertainment while noting that it was a performance that audiences had never seen before.

The reviews by Ms. Venkataram and by The Deccan Herald perhaps exemplify the range of responses that the press and audiences had to SJDC’s work. On the one hand, many conversations with audience members focussed on the location of Indian-ness, the work’s derivations, its genealogy and the concern with identity politics. Other responses were enthralled by the sheer virtuosity of the dancers, the artistic quality of the presentation and, of course, the story of the Harlem Riots and the 7/7 bombings in London. Arguably, the language used to critique contemporary dance in India is as young as the contemporary dance scene itself. Ideally, the performances of Bruise Blood and Faultline in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai, offered a window on how to begin making sense of contemporary dance in India’s global milieu where meanings are less fixed than ever before and Indian-ness is as inscrutable as the geographic borders that define it.

 
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Press Reviews:
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e-flyer
Bangalore Mirror
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Deccan Her ald
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review
DNA
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review
The Hindu
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review
The Times of India
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review
The Screen

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review
The Hindu
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review
The New Indian Express
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review
The Times of India
 
 
 
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