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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.

Bangalore

   
Shobana, in conversation with Niki, 1 November 2002

SJ The piece is called [h]Interland, which I suppose is autobiographical because Bangalore is my hinterland. It is a city that I always visit, where I have lived for a time, where my parents live today and where my grandfather’s house is. Many of my dancers also come from there. I knew the piece, especially the film had to be something to do with motorbikes and traffic.

NP At the Dance Umbrella Virtual Incarnations discussion at the ICA in September, just before rehearsals began, you reminded Merce Cunningham that he had once said that someone in India should make a piece about the traffic. His comment, you said, had been on your mind while you were filming in Bangalore, placing a dancer in the middle of a busy roundabout. You said that you became aware of the choreography of traffic at junctions, of drivers’ concentration on the countdown signals showing when the lights will change. What was it about motorbikes, more than just traffic, that drew you?

SJ I think all my dancers from Bangalore, when I first met them, had motorbikes. That is how young women in Bangalore travel around, come to rehearsal. That intensity of the traffic is so much a part of cities like Bangalore, part of the way they look for me. When I was growing up, Bangalore was known as the garden city, rather than the IT capital that it is now.

NP And that shift interested you?

SJ Yes, Bangalore has had to accelerate, and I think that it has done so in an interesting way. It is that acceleration and intensity that I wanted Pete to film.

From interview between Shobana and Niki, 14 September 2002

NP Can you tell me about the work you did with Chitra?

SJ Young people like Chitra spend a lot of time in Bangalore getting around by riding on motorbikes. Starting points for movement came from sitting on motorbikes; what the body does when it is sitting on a bike, the different dynamic and angles one has to go through, what the body does in terms of balance. So the phrases we have now are things like ‘petrol station’, ‘putting on your helmet’, ‘sudden break’, ‘skid’. They are not literal - the vocabulary of riding a motorbike has become a symbol.

from interview between Shobana and Niki, 1 November 2002

NP You were talking about wanting a quality of acceleration, of movement that went ‘va-va-voom’. Rhythmically, did that also link to the abstracted gestures of kick-starting a motorbike?

SJ I suppose it belonged with that, but those gestures came with the other motorbike actions, while working with Sowmya. I was interested how the body of a motorbike-rider is very active, unlike a car driver who just sits. The way one leans into turns, driving the machine with your body. I liked the kick-starting movement because it is not technique oriented, but has such energy and personality.

 

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Shobana, in conversation with Niki, 14 September 2002

SJ The most perfect live link would be by satellite, your own superhighway from your venue to the other venue, with probably a perfectly synchronised image. Actually, for me that is not so exciting. […] If I showed someone a perfectly projected image of a dancer, I don’t think there would be a real ‘now-ness’ to its surface.

Our sense of time has been so tampered with by different audio-visual formats – video, television - that I wondered what format could be particular to real-time linking. My first decision was to have a ‘locked’, immovable camera, to remove the grammar of the camera - of manipulating an image, of edits and cuts. I felt this would give a different way of relating to the dancer. All the choreography for Chitra took in the fact that it would be seen through a static camera, as through a window.

[…]

NP You must have worked closely with the camera angle when choreographing Chitra’s movement?

SJ Yes, the choreography takes into account the scale of the figure to the camera. I looked at everything through the camera lens, creating close-ups, for example, by how the dancer moves closer to the lens. It became a self-editing dance.

Shobana, in conversation with Hannah, 12 November 2002

SJ Had we vision-mixed Chitra, and introduced more than one camera, and more than one angle, it would have been a completely different piece. She would have looked invulnerable.

HB So was her vulnerability a point that was important to you?

SJ I think that’s what makes time real. That’s what gives her a different kind of presence than Mavin or Sowmya, or her image on Pete's film. It’s a very subtle thing; the reason I think it was successful was just because people didn’t notice. For example, you never imagine questioning Sowmya's reality because you can see her…she is there. I think Chitra had a different kind of unquestioned presence. You looked at her in a particular way – she had a flat presence. I found her presence really intriguing because she was flat like a filmed presence, and yet she wasn't manipulated like a filmed presence.

Shobana, in conversation with Christopher Bannerman, November 2002

SJ I knew that I was never very interested in trying to synchronize Chitra with the dancers here or the film. If I wanted synchronicity, I might as well have flown her here to rehearse with me in the studio. Instead, distance was the main thing, with how it makes for fragmentative experiences. You celebrate the sometimes alienating effects of distance; the fact that Chitra was there at midnight, we were here at 7.30; she was next to an extremely noisy main road, whereas we had Donnacha’s music.

For me, [h]Interland was not about testing technology, but about reflecting conditions of life, that Chitra was in Bangalore and I was here. The only thing we had in common was we had a history together.

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