Sensational is when a soft breeze kisses down a naked spine’s trail. The vertebrae squirm with desire, and goosebumps await for a warm touch to terrorise that carnal yearning. This is the thin line between pleasure and pain. This is also … a shiver.
Subathra Subramaniam, artistic director of new dance company Sadhana, fondly known as co-founder of Angika, has taken a collaborative journey to “explore the scientific and emotional reasoning behind why we shiver”.
Based on an original idea by author and broadcaster Lemn Sissey, with scientific advice from Professor Morten Kringlebach, The Shiver is a multi-layered performance of visual imagery, facts, poetry and movement.
As Prof. Kringlebach quite rightly states, “… [it’s] a fascinating topic which is not currently well understood”, and the aim of the production is to go beyond its thermoregulatory, physiological reasoning to “explore with dance the role of the shiver in social interactions and in the subjective experience”.
Bharatanatyam is Suba’s reference point for this study-presentation. What is not apparent is the exploration of bharatanatyam as a scientific body that explains the ‘why’ with motion and emotion with little steering away from the classical dance body with articulate dancers (Kamala Devam, Elena Jacinta and Anusha Kedhar).
The atmospheric text is graphic and occasionally tedious. Early on, against microscopic images of nerve cells on screen, the voice recites text while movement, with precision, reverberates to an electronic score chiming. The disjointed sounds resonate with the text, as a dancer places her hand on the other arm, the words “electrical … science … tingle” ripple out, yet the moment of touch feels like a casual choreographic motif rather than sensational experience.
Shivering is a bodily function by muscle groups around vital organs shaking in small movements to generate heat from expending energy when the body’s core temperature has dropped.
What is greatly unclear is how bharatanatyam’s bodily function has explored this idea and beyond. The verticality of the form is continuously present through its strong prominent spine; however, the sensation of tingle, the electrical energy from the third ventricle, the primary motor centre for shivering, is absent.
Quite often the dancers lead movement from their backs, reaching out to holding in, touching their skin, and occasionally claiming one another with contact or a glance, returning to bharatanatyam phrasing. Between solos and duets, taking to floor patterns, to charging through the space together, this interdisciplinary performance risks the busyness of over-layering.
There are momentous parts, especially when the trio line up diagonally, and gently lean back and forth, teasing gravity, sadly short-lived. Another is when the dancers move into each other’s periphery, enveloping with glorious carving dynamics, the engagement of presence and focused alignment, which is intense and relishing.
The Shiver could be more with less. While it is adventurous to take on this research, the choreographer has limited her palette by sieving it through bharatanatyam alone. Opening up to styles that lend themselves to the subject matter would have conveyed the essence more powerfully.