Review: Shobana Jeyasingh Dance - Strange Blooms - Queen Elizabeth Hall

Performance: 3 & 4 December 2013
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Wednesday 4 December 2013

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance -  Avatara Ayuso & company in  'Strange Blooms'
Photo: John Ross

Performance reviewed: 3 December

Shobana Jeyasingh’s 25th anniversary celebrations reach their culmination this month with the final presentation in a year-long programme of large and small-scale touring works and community creative projects. Jeyasingh’s new creation, Strange Blooms, is a work of strange beauty that once again sees the choreographer resist easy categorization.

You wouldn’t think a piece about plants could be such things as agile, kinetic and full of life, but Strange Blooms is all these and more. The work is divided into four sections; the first, based loosely on time-lapse films of growing vegetation, finds the dancers coiling and looping like shooting tendrils reaching for the sun or gripping for support. The pace is frenetic, the movement hyperkinetic, with arms, legs and hips shooting rapidly in all directions. Even as the dancers twist frantically through the space, connecting and reconnecting in lightning-quick configurations, there are the graceful adornments familiar from Jeyasingh’s native Bharatanatyam: fingers blossom into leaves and petals, and bodies pause for an instant in sculptural balances.

Later sections take inspiration from areas of plant life that are invisible to the naked eye, including cellular instability and regeneration. These biochemical processes are transformed into brittle clusters of bodies cleaving together and splitting, forming and reforming into new hybrids and permutations. The programme notes contain quotations from naturalists and neurobiologists , reflecting the work’s curiosity about the usually unobserved inner life of the world’s flora rather than the often-romanticized external beauty of plants.

Jeyasingh’s ensemble of eight dancers weave around a new score by Gabriel Prokofiev that radically remixes a baroque piece for harpsichord. At first, the shimmering sounds are unidentifiable as those of a keyboard instrument; gradually, more plucked string sounds break through and snatches of melody become audible. In the same way, Jeyasingh’s blooms, strange and abstracted as they first appear, reveal themselves gradually through the piece in symbiosis with the score.

Strange Blooms is paired in this programme with Jeyasingh’s signature piece Configurations, which was reconfigured on a quartet of male and female dancers for last year’s Classic Cut and appears in a new, ahem, configuration here. Rathimalar Govindarajoo is now flanked by three male dancers, and the contrast is electrifying, Govindarajoo’s potent attack and fiery intensity pulsing against the longer-limbed elegance of her companions.

Repeated outings have not drained Configurations of its sheer visceral thrill; the exhilarating pace at which the four dancers negotiate Michael Nyman’s ever-changing rhythms is gripping to experience. Formations fly across the stage at an unrelenting pace; the work is a technical marvel, but it’s also infused with a spirit of pure joy that only seems to increase with time. Nyman’s score is performed this time by the Benyounes Quartet, who receive a rousing cheer for their playing. The loudest applause of the evening, however, goes to Configurations‘ quartet of dancers; their performance is remarkable, and the work’s place in the canon of modern classics is assured.

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher, as well as a regular contributor to, londonist & Arts Professional. Find her on Twitter @lisekit

Photos: John Ross

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