Interview: Shobana Jeyasingh on choreographing for older dancers

Monday 19 June 2017

Shobana Jeyasingh creating with Company of Elders. Image by Johan Persson

This week Sadler’s Wells presents Elixir Fesitval celebrating lifelong creativity and the contribution of older artists.

To celebrate, all this week at LondonDance we will be speaking to people involved in the festival. First-up is Shobana Jeyasingh who is choreographing a specially commissioned piece for the Company of Elders.

Born in Chennai, India and with roots in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, Shobana lives and works in London. She has been creating dance works for 27 years. Her highly individual work has been seen in a variety of venues including theatres, outdoor and indoor sites and on film. It is work that is rooted in a vision of society that can be culturally coherent in new and unexpected ways and in a firm belief in the intellectual as well as the physical power of dance.

Tell us about the work you are creating for the Elixir Festival

I have titled it here because I found that what struck me most about the group was the force of their presence. I have chosen the first movement John Adams Shaker Loops as the music because it reflects the energy and focus of community.

What adaptations to the choreography, if any, have you made for older dancers?

What is more pertinent than age is that the Company of Elders do not bring a history of professional dance training. They are people who simply have faith in designed human movement which is gift to any choreographer. It’s this factor that calls for changes in choreographic method.

Bodies in any studio are in different stages of ageing, some are more extreme than others and I have to factor that in the creation of movement.

What are the advantages of working with older dancers?

Working with non-professional dancers always means that one has to attend to them as people first as well as dancers. When there is age and experience that presents a very rich and rewarding mixture.

What advice would you give to choreographers thinking about working with older dancers?

Patience and flexibility are good to have because it will takes a bit more time to understand what one is choreographing with. At least that was my experience.

What are you most looking forward to about the Elixir Festival?

Seeing The Company of Elders on stage. So far I have only seen them in the studio, so this is always an exciting prospect!

Elixir festival runs from the 23 to the 27 June at Sadler’s Wells.

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