Pros: An accessible evening of dance performed at its very best.
Cons: Interest in art form would be a boon – this is not yet mass market entertainment.
The sprawling concrete monolith that is the Southbank Centre is one of London’s weirdest and most wonderful cultural offerings. It is the largest single-run arts centre in the world and even eclipses the National in its unintentionally forbidding brutalist architecture. There’s so much going on, it sometimes feels difficult to process.
Inside, there’s little to offer comfort to the soaked-through visitors but once inside the Queen Elizabeth Hall, usually the home of the classical music crowd, it offers luxurious leather seats and a pleasant, if rarified, atmosphere.
Both dances pieces on offer are the work of the brilliant Shobana Jeyasingh. First up, 2013 piece Strange Blooms, features eight dancers in interpretations of plant life. This is no naff wave in the breeze like you’re a flower but instead inspired on a scientific level with elements such as Sunflower Saplings, Branching and Cellular Instabilility offering strong, exploding interpretations of the power of plants which split, break and burst forth into being.
It’s fast, frenetic and packed with masses detail, which makes it feel almost furious in parts but leaves us in no doubt about the ambivalent majesty of nature. The dancers rework in pairs and groups and then in unison to a score by Gabriel Prokofiev that enhances the scientific and fractured tone. All eight dancers (pleasingly, more women than men with seemingly gender-neutral roles) are exceptional but the stand out for me is Avatara Ayuso, whose strength and vision makes her every move captivating.
The second piece is a new work, Material Men, which takes on the Indian cultural diaspora with Bharatanatyam dancer Sooraj Subramaniam and hip hop star Shailesh Bahora.
A spoken narrative locates the dancers culturally as they perform with sari to represent the push and pull of tradition and modernity. Once freed from the sari, they dance separately in their own styles while small moves and gestures draw parallels in these wildly different styles of dance before coming back together, finding more and more similarities in their styles.
It’s beautiful stuff: full of detail, narrative and emotion. Shailesh Bahora’s sinewy limbs contort into amazing shapes and forms, while Sooraj Subramaniam’s dazzling moves delight. The storytelling is clear and it is obvious these are dancers at the very top of their game.
The music, composed by Elena Kats-Chernin and performed on stage by the Smith Quartet and with sound design by Leafcutter John providing the electronic hip hop sounds, is particularly affecting adding drama and emotion in spades.
Both pieces are a triumph for Shobana Jeyasingh, as was testified by the roaring applause for the dance community making up the audience. If you’ve even a passing interest in the art form, her work is both welcoming and charming whilst delivering dance of the highest order.
Director: Shobana Jeyasingh
Presented by: Shobana Jeyasingh Dance
Booking Until: This show has now finished its run.