Asian Music and Dance

Faultline/Bruise Blood

Have you noticed how much horror happens around teenagers? Any broad sample of horror films will show adolescents portrayed as bright young flames to the dark, mothy spirits of poltergeists and demons. It’s partly down to their burgeoning sexuality, of course – but more than that, I think it’s because adolescence itself is a kind of twilight zone, like a border town between the law-abiding states of childhood and adulthood where all kinds of weird shit could happen. And I’m telling you this why?

Because Faultline, a dance by Shobana Jeyasingh first made in 2007, feels like art-house horror, with adolescents as its protagonists. The opening shows Pete Gomes’s video of a suburban street, accompanied by an eerie, unsettling soundtrack (by Scanner). That’s classic horror territory: an ordinary scene rendered spooky by sound and suggestion. The video cuts to images of young Asian men in the street, focusing on their natty clothes, the jab and flinch of their streetwise gestures indicative of an attitude at once cool and tense. It’s an attitude that runs like a seam of anxiety through the choreography, which begins with three sharply-dressed young men, their hips jutting, fingers snapping and bodies twisted in freeze-frames, their stances simultaneously confrontational and defensive. 

Three women join the men, but the formations never settle into anything as stable or as predictable as couples. Instead, the composition is taut with tension, with sudden gear-shifts of speed and direction, new dancers joining in and leaving, duos that multiply into trios or splinter into solitary riffs. The scene is haunted by the figure of soprano Patricia Rozario, who appears behind a screen like a ghost, her voice a keening banshee wail; on the screen itself a giant-sized image of her sari-clad self rises like a spirit from a tomb.

There’s no resolution to Faultline, but the three dimensions of the dance – the disquieting choreography, Rozario’s spectral presence, and the ordinary street – do converge in the end. To a pressing, ostinato sound motif, the dancers circle each other warily; on the screen, Rozario’s image scrolls up again, superimposed on a slow pan towards a suburban house – windows like eyes, door a shut mouth – as if towards some unspeakable secret. It’s as if home itself is an unknown, unnerving place. 

Faultline was made, in part, in response to the London bombings of 2005: Jeyasingh noted a very public upsurge in unease around young Asian men, provoked by fear of terror. The piece itself makes no direct reference to this, but it does channel that zeitgeist of paranoia and anxiety in a way that’s found more often in art-house horror film than in dance.

By coincidence, Jeyasingh’s new piece Bruise Blood has a similar starting point, but here she takes it in a different direction. The source is Come Out, an early tape loop by Steve Reich which samples the police confession of a young black American man; here, the score is intercut with a live vocal performance by beatboxer Shlomo. The opening scene – in which a sliver of light scans a line-up of dancers, who then come forward in turn – has strong overtones of an identity parade. But rather than tap into the drama of that scenario, Jeyasingh uses it as a kind of choreographic resource – just as Reich’s score had used a real-life recording as compositional material rather than as subject matter. So although the dancers’ short ID-parade motifs – as jagged and enigmatic as any of the phrases in Faultline – initially appear confessional, even psychological, they’re actually treated more objectively: choreographic molecules that are fissured and fused across the ensemble in an array of different configurations.

In musical terms, this might be called cutting and mixing; in culinary terms, it’s slice-and-dice. In any case, it’s what Jeyasingh does in the dance: sample movements from the dancers and synthesise them into patterns. The result is mesmerising, like watching sound graphs on digital monitors: errant kicks spike the air like piercing high notes; dancers criss-cross each other like counter-rhythms; groups disintegrate into a kind of choreographic white noise, or coalesce into waves and pulses. Bruise Blood may not have the uncanny psychological undertow of Faultline, but it does show Jeyasingh’s exceptional mastery of dance composition. It’s a rare quality.



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