Review: Sadhana in The Shiver at The Place

Performance: 27 November 2010
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Monday 29 November 2010

'The Shiver' Sadhana Dance.

Why do we shiver? Pain, pleasure, excitement, fear: the body’s shiver reflex seems to have a number of contradictory triggers. Sadhana, the dance company created this year by former Angika co-director Subratha Subramaniam, examines these in a new touring work. Supported – unusually for a dance production – by the Wellcome Trust and drawing on Subramaniam’s own background in science (the choreographer has also worked as a science teacher), The Shiver looks at both the emotional states and the neurological processes that lead us to shiver.

Dressed in red harem pants and strapless tops, three female dancers summon up a mood of tense anticipation. Feet pacing, arms threading around the torso and fingers rippling, they grasp at themselves, twitching in unison with angular poise. Poet Lemn Sissay’s spoken text is rich with images of threat and anxiety as mysterious faces emerge from the blackness, hanging eerily in the darkness like the presence of some unknown evil.

The soundtrack combines musician Kathy Hinde’s electronic score with a recorded reading of Sissay’s text and neuroscientific observations from Professor Morten L Kringelbach, fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. While Sissay’s text works through a series of synonyms for “shiver” – quake, tremor, tremble – Kringelbach’s words offer additional scientific insights to the theme – thermogenesis, neural pathways, electrolyte impulses. In a repeated sequence on the theme of electrolytes, the three dancers speed across the stage with lightning steps, lotus fingers reaching away from the body as beams of light pulse across the cyclorama.

With the exceptions of Wayne McGregor’s frequent collaborations with scientists from many disciplines and Rambert’s exploration of quantum physics in *Constant Speed*, scientific enquiry and the performing arts tend to shy away from one another, so it is pleasing to see dance being used in this exploratory way. The three performers are all technically strong with graceful lines and clean footwork. Subramaniam’s amalgam of Bharatanatyam and contemporary dance is expressive and appealing: liquid arms topped with strong mudras, deep lunges and knee bends combined with supple torsos.

Unfortunately, the theme doesn’t actually bear much investigation – after a certain point in his poetry, Sissay runs out of synonyms for “shiver” and the dance material likewise soon runs out of ideas. Slow hip circles give way to twitching feet, and there’s a nice unison section build on pure-dance nritta towards the end, but overall The Shiver extends in time far beyond its capacity to engage.

Neither did the piece really bring any insight into either the emotional or physiological processes that cause us to shiver. Sissay’s intoned text speaks of anxiety and anticipation; Kringelbach’s adds vocabulary from chemistry and neurology, but nothing in the choreography or the stage presentation really draws together these disparate ideas. Elegantly performed, the natyam steps are nevertheless rather sterile and uncommunicative. Just as there are only so many synonyms for “shiver”, so there are only so many ways to twitch a shoulder or a foot, and the twitching in itself reveals little about the causes of delight, pain or fear.

Involving a scientific consultant in a dance work is an interesting idea, but this clinical investigation ultimately leads to a rather clinical presentation.

Subratha Subramaniam’s partner in Angika also shows new work in London this week.
Catch her company ATMA at Rich Mix on Wed 1 December. More details here

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