New Ballet Inspired by Plant Life

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Prokofiev, Nyman, Strange Blooms & Configurations, Southbank Centre & Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, Southbank Centre, London, 3.12.2013 (J.O’D)


Strange Blooms
Dancers & Creative Collaborators: Avatâra Ayuso, Richard Causer, Sunbee Han, Noora Kela, Simone Muller-Lotz, Teerachai Thobumrung, Lee-Yuan Tu, Hian Ruth Voon, Marco Mantovani (Apprentice Dancer)
Concept, Choreography & Direction: Shobana Jeyasingh
Composer: Gabriel Prokofiev
Lighting Designer: Guy Hoare
Production Designer: Bronia Housman
Animation: Jan Urbanowski
Costume Designer: Fabrice Serafino
Dramaturgical Support: Chris Fogg
Harpsichordist: Jane Chapman


 Dancers & Creative Collaborators: Rathimalar Govindarajoo, Mohd Yunus Ismail, Mohammad Khairi Mokhtar, Sooraj Subramaniam
Musicians: Benyounes Quartet
Concept, Choreography & Direction: Shobana Jeyasingh
Composer: Michael Nyman: String Quartet No. 2
Lighting Designer: Lucy Carter
Costume Designer: Ursula Bombshell


Commissioned by Southbank Centre to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance company, Strange Blooms reflects choreographer Jeyasingh’s interest in plants as ‘the most successful species’. Speaking on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Nightwaves’ in the week before the premiere of this work, she referred to Darwin and to the way that plants move when it is to their advantage. For a choreographer, she said, this is ‘amazing’. At the start it is the survival instinct of plants that the dancers express, certainly, rather than their beauty. After moving in a line across the stage like fungi or moss in time-lapse photography (another source of inspiration for Jeyasingh), the dancers break up into pairs. Although they dance together, each partner is constantly striving to ‘get’ somewhere. Striving and competing. The dancers push past an arm that is held out like a barrier, advance against pressure from a hand on the chest.

Working in collaboration with Jeyasingh, electro-acoustic composer Gabriel Prokofiev breaks down a piece of Baroque music to what he has described (on BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’) as the ‘seeds of the sound’. The juddering chords match the dancers’ apparent ruthlessness in their search for light. Images by Jan Urbanowski projected on to a screen at the back of the stage show white lines against black, extending like roots. About two-thirds of the way in to the piece, however, the tempo of the music slows. The sound of a harpsichord begins to be recognizable. Colour and circular forms make an appearance. The dancers ‘blossom’, movingly, into expressions of desire and need. This is especially true of Teerachai Thobumrung, whose response to a partner (male and female) comes as much from his eyes as from his body. In their final tableau, he and fellow dancer Noora Kela may represent a strange (and beautiful) bloom, but it is one composed of two human beings with feelings after all.

Configurations, the first work in the programme, is from 1988 (the year in which Shobana Jeyasingh Dance was founded), and a chance to see the point from which the choreographer’s work has developed. The Bharata Natyam style is mentioned in the biographies of three of its four performers. The piece is danced to a score composed, again in collaboration, by Michael Nyman (played live on stage by the Benyounes Quartet) and, at times, to the slap of the dancers’ feet as they strike, firmly and rhythmically (and on one occasion a-rhythmically), against the floor of the stage. They rarely touch; balances and leaps are infrequent. Moving around each other on rectangles of light that come on and off in grid formation the dancers seem self-absorbed (their own hand held up in front of them becomes a mirror) even as collectively they form patterns with their arms, hands and splayed fingers. In a sustained central section no two dancers hold their constantly moving arms at the same angle at any one time. This does not make them look like an octopus, exactly, but it may point to the concerns of Jeyasingh’s most recent work.

John O’Dwyer

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