Dance International Glasgow

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance: Material Men redux

Tramway, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

SOORAJ Subramaniam is tall, lean, elegant – almost willowy – in the movement vocabulary of the classical Indian dance techniques, Baratha Natyam and Odissi. Shailesh Bahoran is slighter, shorter, and his brand of hip hop – robotic moves, body-popping, head spins – has the intense energy of a coiled spring erupting into action. In Material Men redux, they share a stage and a choreography created by Shobana Jeyasingh. However these initial strangers share much more. Both men are descended from Indian migrants who were shipped out, as indentured labour, to plantations in Malaysia and Surinam. For “indentured” read “unwitting slave”, and it is this grim history that Jeyasingh illustrates in the opening sections of the piece where a long, tawny silk sari becomes emblematic of homeland lost, and what is endured at sea and on the foreign shores. As the dancers variously fashion the cloth into a sail, a screen showing original photographs of the workers, or a winding sheet – the names of those who died “accidentally” are voiced-over at this point – the sari is like an umbilical cord connecting the dancers with each other, and with past family history.

What of the present? That comes alive when Subramaniam and Bahoran bring their respective dance styles into a bravura dialogue where displays of individual prowess give way to a discovery of what those styles have in common, when channelling the same rhythmic beats. Bodies start to connect, limbs intertwine in a calligraphy of mutual respect, shared virtuosity and simply outstanding dance, thrillingly underpinned by the richly-textured urgency of Elena Cats-Chernin’s score, played live by the Smith Quartet.