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“TooMortal”, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company – St Pancras’ Church, London

Reviewer: Lucinda Al-Zoghbi

[rating:4]

Euston Road is bustling with high-speed and heavy traffic on this dreary summer’s afternoon. Londoners – residents and tourists alike – take shelter from the rain where they can, shop windows, bus stops, even the entrance of a local church. Of the latter, a small crowd gather but they’re waiting for more than just the rain to stop. In fact, they’re waiting for something to begin.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today at St Pancras’ Church to witness the holy matrimony of movement and sound, design and concept: the latest creation from Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, TooMortal. Commissioned by Dance Umbrella as part of an impressive lineup of cultural events happening across the capital for the London 2012 Festival, TooMortal is already destined for great things. Jeyasingh has taken inspiration from Venetian churches, following a recent visit to Italy, and location certainly forms the basis for the work.

A haze of pale blue and green light filters down through the aisle and we, the congregation, are led to the nave of the church where we reside for the duration of the piece. Silence falls, the beaming light fades, four female bodies arise from the pews before dramatically draping themselves along them. These women are eerily in time with each other, and eerie, too, is the deep stare that they hold which is both intense and vacant. Two more appear, almost ghostlike, resuming similar limb-strewn positions along the pews. A fascinating juxtaposition presents itself, for there is warmth in this cold, cold place. These, now six, female bodies are sensual, sultry, fiery-red in their looks (wearing loose-fitting costumes which reveal bare legs, neck and arms) and their manner as they lean, slide, grab their way along the wooden seats, elongating their arms, extending their legs, rolling their head. They move together, as one, but also alone, as one; that is to say there is both attachment and detachment from each other. Spooky.

The plot thickens as the very thing that gives these women strength, power, freedom also binds them – in fact they do not leave their designated pew, not even for a moment – it is indeed a blessing and a curse. Incessant tossing and turning of the head, frantic shaking of the torso, frenetic niggling and writhing of the limbs; try as they might, they cannot divorce themselves from this place. These are disturbed minds and bodies seeking solemn and, although in a place of worship, religion takes a back seat for this piece. Nevertheless, the dancers embark upon an act of devotion to the movement, almost sacrificing the body for us, themselves, their art.

By having her dancers performing in the would-be audience, Jeyasingh challenges performance conventions and, subsequently, the conventions and traditions that the location requires. It’s a case of who’s watching who, but with the fourth wall well and truly gone, it’s a refreshing take on the spectator expectations. For the dance buffs, TooMortal gives a gentle nod towards Lea Anderson’s Flesh and Blood but if it does, then it is a passing detail for this is a standalone work, an artist responding to her inspiration.

Photo: JP Masclet

Runs Until 15 July, then on tour

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