Feature: Meet Shobana Jeyasingh, Artistic Director and Choreographer of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company
Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company is rooted in a vision of societies that are culturally coherent in new and unexpected ways. Avoiding cliché and stereotype, they produce work that directly resonates with all our day-to-day experiences of many cultures living side-by-side in contemporary cities. Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company is acclaimed for pioneering work in choreography hallmarked by excellence and high quality, with extensive experience of leading imaginative and innovative learning and participation work both in schools and in the wider community. Running projects that empower women, inspire girls, encourage young people to engage in intelligent physical activity and support study at all levels. Offering apprentice placements for dance students and nurturing tomorrow’s leading dancers and choreographers. In 2012, 2013 and 2015, they were nominated for Best Independent Company by the Critics, Circle National Dance Awards. In 2014, received the Award for Excellence in International Dance from the International Institute of Dance and Theatre. Shobana Jeyasingh is one of the few woman leaders in the field of dance and choreography.
Tell us about your company, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance. You formed the company in 1988, how did this come about?
The then director of The Place theatre commissioned me to make a dance work for four dancers – a process that I enjoyed.
An extract from Bayadère – The Ninth Life, a dance theatre work commissioned by the Royal Ballet Studio Programme in 2015, forms part of the Sadler’s Wells Sampled line up, tell us about this work.
My dance work takes La Bayadere , the nineteenth century ballet of Petipa as its starting point. The story of the ballet is told through the words of a young Indian man living now in a city like Bangalore or London. As he recounts the story he is “captured” by the ghosts in the third act of the original ballet and experiences what it feels like to be a Bayadere in Europe. I use the words of the ballet critic Theophile Gautier written to describe his first encounter with Indian classical dancers in Paris in 1838.
When did you decide you wanted to choreograph professionally?
When I made the work for The Place.
What do you enjoy most about choreographing?
Crafting the dramaturgical structure – in my head, in the studio and in the theatre
What has been the stand out moment in your career to date?
Finding out that it is possible to make a dance work on a subject as scientifically specific as mitosis.
However the completion of any dance work is a stand out moment!
What piece of advice would you give to dancers beginning their journey, a bit of advice you wish you had known when you were starting out?
I stopped dancing as soon as I started choreographing so anything I say will be hopelessly out of date. However any career in the arts needs an obsessive streak!
What’s been the best dance advice you’ve been given and by whom and why was it such great advice for you?
The best choreographic advice I was given was “put it where they can see it”. I am a person who likes complications so it was good to be reminded that sometimes it’s best to be obvious.
What things help you create or develop new works? Do you have a favourite space or routine that percolates ideas?
Having the time to reflect and be stimulated by literature, films, visual art, opera, exhibitions as well as current affairs does wonders for me! Early hours of the morning when the day is still new and uncluttered is when I can think and imagine clearly.
Would you say that collaboration is necessary to creating or developing work?
It depends on what one wants to create and the platform where the work is to be placed.
Most ideas need partnering to be realised fully whether it be through working with a composer or designer. On the other hand the partner could simply be the architecture of a wonderful building.
Shobana Jeyasingh Dance will be touring Material Men redux across the UK in 2017, can you tell us more about this?
Material Men has two stories which connect. One is the story of indentured labour whereby well over a million Indians were transported to replace the emancipated slaves and generally supply cheap labour for the colonial planters of tea, rubber and sugar. The other is the story of two young men whose history lies in colonial migration but who journey towards each other despite differing techniques of hip hop and Bharatha Natyam.
London is sometimes referred to as ‘the dance capital of the world’ – do you agree with that? What would make it better a better place to work in?
Certainly London offers me the opportunity to see an amazing amount and variety of dance.
However it is very short on good studios for independent companies like mine who generally produce their own work. Many things about dance have got slicker but the average contemporary dancer can only afford to rehearse in cramped and under resourced studios. Generally universities and colleges have better rehearsal facilities than the professional freelance dancer or dance maker.
What’s next for you?
Thinking about virology and dance for a production planned in 2018.
Shobana Jeyasingh Dance will be performing an extract reimagining Petipa’s exotic ballet ‘La Bayadere’ to create a new vision that interweaves fiction with history and belongs to both India and Europe; as part of Sadler’s Wells’ Sampled on 3 & 4 February 2017 and also at The Lowry on 24 & 25 February. The company will tour Material Men Redux across the UK in Spring 2017.
More About Shobana Jeyasingh – Artistic Director and Choreographer
Born in Chennai, India and with roots in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, Shobana Jeyasingh 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.
Especially commissioned music has been a significant feature of her work and has led to new scores from an array of contemporary composers ranging from Michael Nyman to beat boxer Shlomo. Her creative collaborators over the years have been drawn across a variety of media such as filmmakers, mathematicians, digital designers, writers, animators as well as award winning lighting and set designers.
Her critically acclaimed and pioneering dance works include Interland which broke boundaries in 2002 as the first dance performance to be webcast live between the UK and India. Shobana’s work has been widely toured to festivals and venues in Europe, USA, India, Singapore, China, South Korea and Hong Kong. Commissions include works for Rambert, Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, Ballet Black, Beijing Dance Academy and City Contemporary Dance Company, Hong Kong.