Classic Cut at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre is the first project in a three-year-long celebration to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance. The evening contained one completely new work Dev Kahn Hai?/Where is Dev?, and a reworking of Configurations, one of Jeyasingh’s first choreographic endeavours in the 1980s. As in all of Jeyasingh’s work, both pieces used the vocabulary of classical Indian dance as a starting point, which was then layered with contemporary movement and choreographic choices.

The night began with Dev Kahn Hai?/Where is Dev?, a study of the many characters in Indian classical dance. These characters are integral to the classical form because each dance is a story, told by a sole female dancer. The dancer must embody each character in the story as she dances the tale, but in Jeyasingh’s work, the characters are represented by six different dancers. The archetypal heroine and her absent lover are clothed in white and strictly adhere to the classical Indian dance form, while the other four dancers are a more contemporary rehashing of the heroine’s friends, wearing sunglasses and black clothing. The piece also included a video component, and the music, by composer Niraj Chag, was largely audio from Bollywood films.

While the idea behind the piece was very interesting, the intent of the choreography was sometimes unclear. Because the focus of the piece was on the storytelling aspect of classical Indian dance, it seemed like there was a narrative within the work. Jeyasingh explored a common theme: the heroine who waits in anticipation for her lover – her distant desire. While the dancers representing the heroine and her lover clearly portrayed this theme, the dancers who were “friends” seemed to move in and out of the central storyline. The relationships between the characters got lost in this constant switching.

At one point the dance featured a series of duets, with dancers in black dancing together alone onstage. It was unclear whether these duets were a continuation of the narrative that is established by the heroine, with the dancers as friends in her story, or if theirs was another depiction of desire and anticipation. The redeeming aspect of the piece was the use of space and pattern in the group sequences. Dancers weaved between each other, dancing similar movement, but fitting together like a puzzle. Dev Kahn Hai?/Where is Dev? was an ambitious project, that only became entangled in the difference between the centrality of a singular narrative in Indian classical dance and the more abstract use of imagery in contemporary dance.

The second work of the evening, Configurations, was what Jeyasingh describes as a “re-imagining” of the original piece, which was commissioned by The Place in 1988. Performed with a live string quartet, four dancers in red carve through the space dancing through squares of light that are constantly shifting. While the first work was very conceptual, Configurations is inspired by the music and the abstraction of the classical Indian movement. The music, composed by Michael Nyman and performed by The Smith Quartet, was warm and urgently bright, sending an electric charge through the dancers as they performed each intricate movement. The piece exuded joy, and was completely captivating from start to finish. The dancers whirled and stomped, with exacting accuracy and speed, always in time with the music and fully engaged in each moment. Additionally the four dancers eloquently tackled the challenging choreography, seamlessly blending the Indian dance with the contemporary movement and phrasing. This was the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, at 25 years, showing exactly why they are worth celebrating.

Overall Classic Cut was an explosive start to Shobana Jeyasingh Dance’s anniversary celebration. From the investigation of the archetypal structure inherent in Indian classical dance, to the exuberant celebration of the abstract movement, Jeyasingh put together a show that explores the many ways to blend classical Indian and contemporary dance. In this moment when the company reflects on their 25-year journey, Jeyasingh proves that while there is much to look back on, there is still more to investigate in this unique marriage of the two dance forms.

***11