Configurations/Strange Blooms – Shobana Jeyasingh Dance: Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank, London, 3 December 2013

Heavy plant crossing

You be Cagney, I'll be Lacey. Shobana Jeyasingh Dance get ready for Strange Blooms. Photo by Foteini Christofilopoulou

You be Cagney, I’ll be Lacey. Shobana Jeyasingh Dance get ready for Strange Blooms. Photo by Foteini Christofilopoulou

It’s amazing the difference 25 years can make. Back in 1988 Shobana Jeyasingh created her first piece of non Indian classical dance. After apparently grabbing Michael Nyman at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, she convinced him to write her a string quartet, Configurations was born and Shobana Jeyasingh Dance took off.

Revisited for this double bill (coupled with the Southbank Centre’s new commission Strange Blooms), there’s still plenty of Indian Classical dance permeating through Configurations – especially in the arched limbs and the pictorial fingers – but it’s certainly Western contemporary dance that dominates the piece.

Three guys and one girl, all wearing Ursula Bombshell’s fetching red skirts, break in and out of unison, often in rigid formations but rarely touching each other – they seem too engrossed in their own individual role within the collective for that. The choreography is restless with quick movements that never settle and the dancers’ brilliantly precise stamp, stamp, stamping punctuates Nyman’s momentum-led score. The middle section of Configurations sagged however, only to be rescued by the final movement where a frenzy of Indian Classical dance took over.

Reel forward 25 years to the present day and Jeyasingh’s new time-lapsed plant-based Strange Blooms has no obvious Indian associations at all. Instead we’re faced with Wayne McGregor-like choreographic extremities and body-warps. However, there’s enough superbly danced movement within the work to make this Jeyasingh’s own; the guy being pulled back and forth by two others, the man being caught by a colleague and immediately holding his position with his leg thrust forward and the girl being yanked across the stage while she tries to swat flies with her feet are just three examples.

Jan Urbanowski’s blurred animation and its spiky entrails didn’t add a great deal, Guy Hoare’s enriched lighting got the tone just about right and the choreography worked well with Gabriel Prokofiev’s specially commissioned score/soundscape – a broken-up jam of harpsichord samples that produced thunderous crashes and oud-like pluckings amidst electronic hums. Put it all together and Strange Blooms proved well-crafted and very now but as a memorable piece of work it remained elusive.

Still, after a quarter of a century of dance-making, Shobana Jeyasingh’s mind proves as enquiring and creative as ever and that’s to be celebrated.

Gerard Davis

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