Choreographer: Shobana Jeyasingh
Composer: Elena Kats-Chernin
Reviewer: John Kennedy
Choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh is feted for her breathtaking, chance-taking originality. Ever looking to the future, she nevertheless remains rooted to her Indian/Sri Lankan artistic antecedents.
Exotic, robotic-erotic, evocative and provocative – this is quite an achievement for two men dizzyingly and dazzlingly infused with dervish delights. Virtuoso conjoined spirits intoxicated with a Jinn-soaked mission to explore and test the boundaries of spectacular space and time movement. Gravity being either a piffling distraction or a manipulative magnet exploited for its atomic density. They use it for their sport, splashing near infinite shades of shape and form upon and within a multi-dimensional canvas that renders them both ethereal and material men.
Described as contrasts between and cross-fusions within the genres of classical Indian dance, Sooraj Subramaniam and alt.Hip-Hop chameleon guru, Shailesh Bahoran use symbiotic references to explore their shared ancestral histories of post-slavery indenture on colonial plantations.
A newly commissioned score by acclaimed Australian composer, Elena Kats-Chernin, plays live on stage performed by The Smith Quartet. It is eloquently complemented by sound designs by Leafcutter John. The dance space is spartan but for a palisade of vertical and off-centre slender metal pillars. Like derelict church organ pipes perhaps they symbolise the calumny of the Missionaries’ zeal and malleable morality. Or are they railway tracks usurped from their parallel linear element to form a barrier, an intimidating fence or cage? But, there are gaps to be exploited, potent possibilities for dynamic transitions.
Our voiceless characters are bound to each other by a long drape of saffron-hued fabric. A binding coil becomes a sari, that becomes a ship’s sail and latterly, for countless souls – a burial at sea (reusable) winding sheet. Theirs is a story that unfolds through passionate mime and muscular expressionism. Images, contemporaneous accounting and ships’ logs detail the indentured men and women: by number, gender, forename, village name and cause of death. Assuaged by cauldrons of holy Ganges waters brought aboard to counter the Hindu taboo of sailing the ‘black waters’ they are easily duped. ‘We put our thumbprint on a contract because we couldn’t read or write –we were told we were going to a land of golden honey.’
These are tortured tableaux where our protagonists sometimes writhe in an ‘ecstasy of fumbling’ grasping and gasping in their pursuit of self-identity, dignity and place. Sensual, sublime – they sing with their bodies electrically charged with the vital spark of irrepressible humanity. Uplifting resolution comes with the closing – let’s throw some shapes – celebratory montage of Time for a dance-battle, Bro! Dazzlingly dexterous – mind, muscle, bone and sinew become sensually magic. But maybe even these beautiful truths still ain’t half hot enough for those who mourn the passing of the Empire and raise the barriers in their minds ever higher?
Runs until 28 March 2017 | Image: Jane Hobson