Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company
Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House
“An intriguing new production in two halves”, that’s what we were told. And intriguing it was. Classic Cut is a double-bill from acclaimed British-Asian choreographer, Shobana Jeyasingh which combines new – Dev Kahan Hai?, or for those of us not fluent in Hindi Where is Dev? – and old, Configurations, the 1989 collaboration with composer Michael Nyman. What I found most intriguing, at first, was Jeyasingh’s decision to programme the new first and then the old. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? But perhaps this was a statement of where the company are now, the assertion of creative stance before the before and after of Configurations. On which note, I hadn’t seen the original. Should I have done so prior to seeing tonight’s performance? I don’t think so. The piece was created the year I was born and no amount of YouTube clips could replace the fact that I wasn’t there to see it performed live. Anyway, this meant that I was able to develop a more objective, stand alone perspective whilst seeing it the second time around; and my spectatorship was (relatively) unscathed by bias, loyalties and the like.
The dancers show incredible skill throughout the programme with their steely strength and explosive energy. This is evident in Configurations, particularly, which is perhaps allowing to the “abstract” nature of the work because bharatanatyam is a “high-art” technique. There is accuracy in the smallest detail, this relates back to Jeyasingh’s dance roots and you can see it’s her forte – she and her dancers are meticulous. Whilst I observe this as an abstract piece, there is clear narrative which reminds me of something the British kathak dancer, Aakash Odedra, said to me: “why can’t dance be abhinaya?” Well here there is. Why, even behind dark-tinted sunglasses, the dancers in Dev Kahan Hai? show so much narrative. Their eyes, the familiar mirrors to the heart and soul may be concealed but what skill there is in the choreography and it’s execution to reveal so much more than movement. Yes, it’s usually the eyes which speak to us but here it’s the slight inclination of the head, the intensity, chemistry between these bodies in this space at this moment. The movement is their language to convey a thread of narrative but narrative aside and the movement gives reason to shout about. Partner work and full ensemble sections are especially good – well-devised in terms of composition but also for the execution and collaboration. These sections are clearly well-rehearsed; the company are a comfortable cohort, together, which enables them to deliver the goods. The lines and the points of contact are so resourceful of bodies and space, inventive and innovative, too. As an observer I am in a state of constant suspense – I have no idea what’s coming next, there’s a thrill, a chase and I can’t bear to take my eyes away. Not even for a second.
Dev Kahan Hai?, a sort of ode to Bollywood, is very clever and almost poetic, actually. Jeyasingh reverses the roles of the heroine and lover, almost relying on the spectators’ skill (memory) to make the connection. I can almost anticipate how the piece will end but in a good way, not cliché, and that’s because it’s more of an acknowledgement that we’re all on the same page (metaphorically speaking), on all angles of the performance context.