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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.

Rehearsal in Studio

Working With Dancers

From Hannah’s Journal, Rehearsal Week 1: Thursday 20 September 2002

SJ tries out a lot of the movement herself as well as long periods of silence whilst she is thinking and the dancers are waiting. […] I say SJ tries out the movement herself – she does not really move much, but is obviously thinking through a feeling within her body, such as feeling a twist. It looks like she uses her body almost as a puzzle to decipher where the next bit of movement goes, rather than watching the dancers puzzle it out.

from interview between Shobana and Niki, 1 November 2002

NP Often you would arrive in the studio in the morning, look in your notebook, and immediately begin setting material. What would you have in your notebook - a detailed description of the phrase or a sketch of possibilities?

SJ A sketch, or shorthand pointers and reminders. That day I would know what I meant, but it is not a notation. If I go back now I wouldn’t recognise it.

NP And how would have you come up with those pointers?

SJ In the evening, I would work it out, not in a formed way, but usually in front of a mirror – I use my wardrobe mirror! Notes towards movement. I don’t see myself as a dancer so wouldn’t want to make something one hundred per cent. I am never going to go and say, ‘do this’ - or I hope I don’t. For me, it is about indicating some way of going for the dancers and then seeing what happens.

NP Does it take you long in the evenings to find that sketch?

SJ Yes, a very long time, producing small things. But they are solely things that one starts off with, which then gather momentum, expand and become other things.

from interview between Shobana and Niki, 1 November 2002

NP You have worked with both Sowmya and Mavin prior to [h]Interland?

SJ Yes, a fact which makes a big difference. […]

NP And you develop individual approaches to work with each dancer?

SJ I work in a very different way with Mavin to Sowmya, for instance, as they have different skills, different contexts. With Sowmya, the simple thing is that I have known her much longer, have worked with her much more […]. Mavin, I have worked with only on one project […]. I am still looking at him and understanding what he is about.

Movement Material

video shot by Hannah during rehearsal:

HB I was interested because you obviously have a very clearly planned idea here of movement material. I wondered whether that had come from your notebook, and if so what do you write down?

SJ I don't write anything particularly; I couldn't look at the notebook now and produce this movement! I think it's just a way of jotting down thoughts.

This section we are looking at had a little jump. I'd been playing football with Karunesh, and playing this game where he had to kick the ball and I had to dodge it, and I suddenly found myself doing… from a heel thing to a toe. [demonstrating]. So I thought “oh, that’s interesting, I'll try that in the studio the next day”.

HB And so, when you're making these notes, are you writing them down in words, or are you drawing images?

SJ Not drawing. Some words - I might just say “Karunesh football” in the background in brackets. It's just to jog your memory, because it's so difficult to notate movements that don't really come from any particular system. […] it’s like a private code for jogging my memory.

HB Right. So it quite often is a kind of reference point…

SJ Reference point to something that I've thought about. [...]

HB kind of an anchor?

SJ Yes, yes.

from interview between Shobana and Niki, 1 November 2002

NP When we came in you were talking about the grid.

SJ The grid? I don’t know if it got us more than a couple of movement elements. It was a task I did because Mavin has three very strong dance languages: ballet, Bharata Natyam and Odissi.

NP He seemed more shy about using Odissi?

SJ I suppose Ballet and Bharata Natyam are the two things he has worked most in. I was fascinated by the Odissi side of him. For the grid, I divided the body into different, numbered zones and said, for example, arms will be the Odissi zone, torso will be Bharata Natyam zone. We tried to make up phrases saying, for instance, if you put the movement from zones two, four and six together, what will you get? Sometimes they made interesting dance phrases, other times they didn’t.

SJ I don’t think, in the end, anyone would look at one of these phrases and associate it with Odissi or whatever. That was a starting point, to remind, or place the dancer, but from which it moves on to be something completely different. Starting points may have nothing to do with end-points; they are organising tactics.

NP Does it help ease a dancer into your process, to work from something more familiar to them?

SJ It could be. Sometimes it makes it harder to leave that place. It is just a possible means to an end. Putting petrol in a car can get you somewhere but I am not interested in the petrol for its own sake.

from interview between Shobana and Niki, 1 November 2002

NP Were you looking for particular stories in the Odissi abinaya?

SJ No, any story. I was looking for the possibility of interesting manipulation. The thing I start out manipulating doesn’t seem crucial to me.


NP And what is the experience of seeing something that you identify as manipulable?

SJ I have a feel that something here could be changed into something interesting.

NP Have you always had that eye?

SJ I was always interested in changing things. I want to take the body in some different routes. In a conventional movement language, there are certain rules about how you can move, for example, in classical dance they are to do with shapes and regular pathways. There are pathways too through which the body naturally moves. I find my eye is not engaged by movement pathways set through some perceived idea of symmetry or idea of ‘flow’.

NP And so moments that you pick up on…?

SJ are ones that express that ‘non-flow’, that have a strangeness to them. I try to create conditions whereby that can happen, for instance with unusual meeting points.

from interview between Shobana and Hannah, 12 November 2002

HB     you were talking about how limitations are very useful, because in a sense you can create anything, so it’s a question of limiting yourself in certain ways. Can you explain a bit more about this?

SJ  It’s important to create barriers. For example, I could say to a dancer “dance as if you’ve only got one arm”. That’s not because you’re going to dance with only one arm, but it’s a way of putting creative barriers to see what comes up. Obviously all manner of things are possible in a studio, and I think part of the challenge of being a choreographer is actually finding interesting barriers, to find limits. The more interesting your limits are, the more interesting your material is.

Structuring & Composition: parts & wholes

From Niki’s Journal, Rehearsal Week 4: Friday 11 October

“…After the break, Shobana talks them through a rough order of the material; Long Walk and Sowmya’s motorbike; Loops twice, with film; Duets; Mavin’s solo. This order may change, Shobana comments, once she can see the movement with Chitra and the films, and if the music does not provide what she is expecting.

Shobana, in conversation with Hannah, 12 November 2002

SJ For weeks and weeks the Loops material [eventually a duet between Sowmya and Mavin] was 2 people doing exactly the same material in a very flat format […] I knew it wasn’t going to be the end product, but I just wasn’t ready to go and play around with it. I think it’s only when we reached the Greenwich Dance Agency that I (in my own terms) 'composed' it. It was just a sketch, not even a sketch; it was just intentions towards a sketch. But […] it’s like that for a very long time.  People see it in week 1 and it’s like that, and week 2, week 3, week 4, its still like that. What's changing is inside me.

Shobana, in conversation with Christopher Bannerman, November 2002

SJ You always go through periods when you think nothing is working. […] Often, the composition part of it only comes into being for me in the very last week, or the last three days. I never make endings until really the day before the preview or sometimes not even then. […] You spend a lot of time thinking nothing is gelling. And all you have is just little bits of movement – some work, some doesn’t work. I think that is always going to be like that…

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