Asian Music and Dance

Just Add Water?

‘You are what you eat’ was, I remember, one of the more popular catch-phrases during my 1960s childhood. In her latest work Shobana Jeyasingh uses food as a metaphor for how we define ourselves and subsequently establish – and overcome – distinctions and divisions of personal taste or cultural origin and identity. The hour-long production has the scope and vision we’ve come to expect of this gifted British dance-maker. It’s better than half-baked, with tasty ingredients, even if on opening night the creative recipe didn’t quite add up to a completely satisfying theatrical meal.

The first half features what is by Jeyasingh’s standards a good deal of text (written by Rani Moorthy). Spoken words accompany expressive body language as each of the six dancers declares his or her favourite foods from pumpkin pie to home-made chutney or, in one case, a problematic vegetarianism. The cast hails from London, India, America and Spain. Their movement betrays individual training in such styles as bharata natyam, contemporary dance and ballet. Tempers and tensions rise as dancers begin to interact, some annoyingly insistent about the supremacy of what they ingest.

Roughly mid-way through Jeyasingh drops speech and switches to imagery (designed by Dick Straker, with lighting by Lucy Carter). A swathe of neo-psychedelic film projections – close-ups of boiling water or bobbing cubes of unidentifiably pale food – fills the top half of the stage space. These pulsating visual whirlpools are then replaced by dancing. Jeyasingh can feel secure about her strong, integrated ensemble. She works them hard (just as she did the cast in her recent – and thrilling – compilation piece, The Dancers’ Cut). Avatara Ayuso, Ankur Bahl, Navala Chaudhari, Kamala Devam, Mandeep Raikhy and Devaraj Thimmaiah merge and twist through strings of sharp, sinewy and splintered motion that edges towards the athletic. Fuelled by Orlando Gough’s dense, aggressive score of jangling rhythms and barking, manipulated vocals, their ways of connecting also include slower, slithery floor-based partnerings that signal a thematic shift from food to copulation. The implication is that with human intimacy comes a steamy blend of living ingredients from which potent new flavours might arise. It’s a fairly positive take on our troubled times with, or so it seems to me, an underlying promise for the future. But instead of reaching a conclusively shaped finish the performance just kept on bubbling away until it stopped. Jeyasingh herself later acknowledged that the ending I saw required a bit of hasty reworking, which it duly received. It’s perhaps too soon to tell if Just Add Water? is one of her more memorable concoctions or a mere side dish in a splendid twenty-plus year career, but it won’t undermine her status as a dance master-chef.



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