Dance: When your set provides a rude awakening
SHOBANA JEYASINGH GARDNER ARTS CENTRE BRIGHTON
Monday 08 February 1999
Well, the sound of church bells does come in at one point, interrupted by traffic sirens, but there is also quite a lot of irrelevant chat, exhortation ("Get up! Make money") and whistling superimposed on what the Apollo Saxophone Quartet is playing offstage.
It all sounded pretty inconsequential, but in that respect it matched Shobana Jeyasingh's choreography only too well. You can see easily enough what she is trying to do, namely to mix and match a whole collection of different movement styles, although I assume from the Indian basic training of her six dancers, all women, that her own origins in classical south Indian dance (Bharatha Natyam) are still the starting-point, although they are supplemented by several different techniques.
Some of her past explorations provide the material for the other new work on this programme, Memory and Other Props. The range of this becomes clear near the beginning, when one young woman first holds a pose reminiscent of Indian statues, then breaks from it to make her exit with a gymnastic forward roll. In spite of this, there is too much sameness in the pace; or perhaps the weakness is rather that the dancers rarely relate much to each other or to Alistair MacDonald's ragbag score, even when a voice is compellingly rapping out the rhythms.
In one allusion to an earlier piece, the dancers of Memory suddenly come together in a kind of game, and the purposefulness of this shows up what is lacking elsewhere. Fine Frenzy is forced along more crisply by Bates's score, but here again the dances are not terribly cohesive. And it struck me that after the exceptionally bold, expressive dancing we have been seeing lately from the Frankfurt, Wuppertal and Birmingham companies, maybe expectations have been set higher than Jeyasingh's careful, conscientious but slightly plodding team can reach.
However, even the most exceptional cast might find a problem in competing with Madeleine Morris's rudely intrusive designs for Fine Frenzy. The curved sheets of plastic, wound around with coloured cords, which she has ranged across the back of the stage, look pleasant and innocuous enough at first. But after a while first one, then another, start calling attention to themselves by flashing lights in contrasting colours. This distraction draws the eye away from the stage action; unfair competition that the cast cannot really meet.
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