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Shobana Jeyasingh: [h]Interland    
The following observations and reflections by Shobana Jeyasingh, Hannah Bruce and Niki Pollard have been selected and edited by Sanjoy Roy.

Instinct/Intuition

   
Shobana, in conversation with Hannah, 12 November 2002

SJ For me, things remain subconscious for a very long time, and I need to see the dancers doing it again and again. I think the movement needs to settle and enter into their bodies […] Only then can you take the material and play with it – you take something and turn it around in three different places, and it’s a different piece. Suddenly its dance, its choreography. I think that for me that’s the big journey, from sequence to phrase - I think that it remains in that sequence phase for a long time.”

“ […] those are the kind of instinctive, creative decisions that you can't plan for. […] Those are the things that you just have to trust that they happen, and you hope that experience plays a part in making it happen, but you can never guarantee it. If there’s a magic bit to making dance, then for me, that’s the magic bit. It is seemingly non-rational, although I am sure doing it for a long time and working at your craft, all this has some relevance. […] But something other than time and effort has to work as well. I don’t know what it is – imagination maybe?

You also have to know when it is the right time to make it. I think this is one of the things I have learnt. When I was starting I'd get so nervous about whether it was going to happen that I'd constantly try to make that material, and make the dancers do lots of different versions. Now I think I tend not to do that. I think if you leave it until the appropriate moment, then things do happen if you can hold onto your nerve!

SJ It’s just about finding a coherence really, its like arranging the words to make a sentence, but trying to find the grammar of a sentence, so that actually the whole thing becomes coherent and believable.

I find it very difficult to have people in the studio, because I always think there is no way anyone can see where this is leading to, I can’t even see it myself. It's only a sketch, it’s a note. But of course people have responses to that sketch, and then they discuss it with you and you respond to them, and actually then you get deflected sometimes. You can’t ever explain to them its not even 10% of what its going to look like, only a note to myself as to what it could look like, in another 4 weeks.

Hannah’s reflections

“These words like ‘instinct’, ‘feeling’ ‘sense’ – they keep recurring. […] Shobana says she has no sense of a ‘whole’ or ‘story’, but there is some kind of internal logic which is guiding her to make these decisions.  She refers to ‘the thing’, ‘the story’, ‘the piece’, and most interestingly ‘it’.”

“What is ‘it’?  ‘It’ seems to be something sensed -  a feeling which cannot be articulated on the surface of things, but which Shobana has a sense of. […] This reminds me of ‘eureka! I’ve got it!’ where ‘it’ is the solution to a mathematical puzzle; ‘it’ is the answer.  But here, ‘it’ is the performance, and has many elements, many collaborators, many layers, and is enmeshed, woven, active.  […] Shobana simultaneously has no sense of the ‘story’ and yet knows that what we’re seeing in the studio is not ‘it’.  Perhaps what is conventionally referred to as ‘fine tuning’ is the process of material becoming ‘it’?  So there are many tiny adjustments which on their own are insignificant, but as a whole illustrate Shobana’s experienced ‘eye’.”

Fine Tuning

Shobana, in conversation with Hannah, 12 November 2002

SJ I always have banks of things. I feel I don't make a piece in the studio, instead it’s a bit like having a bank account: you put things in your deposit account, and then for me what usually happens in the last week before performances is that I take these things from my bank account, and bring them into my current account. […] In fact, with this piece in particular, because I never really knew what the story was, it was really made when we got to the Greenwich Dance Agency with all the other things. I had no idea what the middle of the thing was; it certainly didn't have an ending. For example the whole of Mavin's solo was done at the Greenwich Dance Agency using all this material that was floating around that I'd worked on with him, lots of different ideas…

HB So in terms of this idea of a bank account, how do you organise your account?

SJ I suppose the material gives you hints. Certain connections appear. I think that’s the bit that is so difficult, because it is to do with instinct and experience, and you just sort of feel 'this thing could come before this', or 'this thing is more logical if you see this bit before that', or 'this together with this creates a flow'.

Collaboration
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Shobana, in conversation with Hannah, 12 November 2002

SJ The project was like having a cooker full of different things, which are all bubbling away. I had to orchestrate, but I don't think I ever thought of it as producing a whole. There were so many different elements which needed to be woven together, and I had to decide how many could occupy the foreground at any given time […]. It was a question of deciding between fore, middle and background, and deciding how the various elements could interplay. That was the process: I didn’t think about it in terms of all the elements making one big thing.

Shobana, in conversation with Hannah, 12 November 2002

HB Obviously all the collaborators had strong personalities. Did you feel that trying to negotiate and co-ordinate with them all was almost an artistic act in itself?

SJ It is, yes. You constantly have to clarify things to yourself and to them, because in the end you have to justify what you are saying. I think understanding the process and always being able to have a conversation are very important in collaborations.

It was very enjoyable and exciting to have all those different inputs from different people, and having all those things to juggle in order to make that final script. You want it to be fruitful for everybody; you don't want anybody to feel ripped off and think 'oh well that’s my idea but that’s not the way I saw it'. I think people have to have artistic satisfaction; that’s really important.

For example, with Donnacha there was a real point of potential conflict between us. I was so happy with the music that he gave me, but I really did not like a particular 3 minutes, and I said so to him, and hassled him a bit. But I think we came out with a sense of respect for each other. In the end it was quite interesting actually, to have something I really battled with. It gave me something that I couldn't have planned. Donnacha and I got on brilliantly, but with him I had a number of areas of potential conflict

That’s the interesting part of collaboration for me, where you can actually have those dual things - a wonderful collaboration and at the same time very strong views and areas of disagreement. I think its good to disagree. It’s hard when you daren't disagree because I don’t think you get to the best of either of you if you can’t have those disagreements. Both people need to be pushed in some ways.

Hannah’s reflection

“Shobana has often spoken to Niki and I about how for her, Bangalore is a rapidly developing city at the centre of technical advances. Shobana explained to me that in [h]Interland she was interested in the urban reality of Bangalore – the traffic, the roads, the rapid growth and modern buildings, and the technological expertise. For Shobana, this experience of Bangalore is far from the exotic rural idyll often depicted in Western constructions of Indian lifestyles.”

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