On the dance front I could not have seen two more different performances this week. They were both part of Spring Loaded and yet again underline the sheer variety of what's available.
First off was Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, another one of those companies I have seen precious little of and hence am getting to know as I do a wider dance walkabout. Jeyasingh trained in Bharata Natyam, a form of Indian dance which - to my untrained eye - is quite earth bound and notably includes the percussive slap of foot on the stage.
But seeing Jeyasingh's company seems far removed from the traditional dancers you might sometimes see and their tabbla musicians. This is 21st Century modern dance with western scores, western design and all manner of dance influences from ballet up (or down). The audience is eclectic and apparently well clued into her work. The QEH looked full too, though when I saw the company earlier in Reading, the Hexagon was perhaps 25-30% full. Overall the feeling was serious and reverential.
Two works were on display, one new (Surface Tension) and one 4 years old (Palimpsest). There were a few sentences of introduction to each in the small programme but these are not narrative works and you could read as much or as little into the words as you liked. The dance itself is probably like nothing else you have seen. While the words and approach seem mainly 20th century, nearly all the Jeyasingh dancers trained in Bharata Natyam and the boldness of the style returns again and again. But stripped of its normal musical context and put against (for the most part) electronic and minimalist inspired music it somehow looks incongruous. There are though other dance influences that sit more comfortably in this context but overall I found the Indian-modern dance hybrid not so much of a match made in heaven.
The pieces also feature non-dancerly parts including video, dancers talking in various groups and, in Surface Tension, a Harpsichord is on stage to accompany the recorded soundtrack. I don't think any of this particularly added much.
Overall I got the feeling that Jeyasingh is like pickled walnuts and very expensive claret - an acquired taste. I'm not sure if it's a taste I'll acquire but this is a quality endeavour to do something different and I hope that more people put their head around the door.
In a land about 10 million miles away - or 2 miles up the road in The Place - was Lea Anderson and her piece Smithereens. I've seen her dancers, the Cholmondeleys (Chums) and the Featherstonehaughs (Fans), a few times now and always found them good, honest, weird, fun.
In Smithereens they are joined by The Victims of Death - two musicians - to create a marvellously twisted cabaret... "inspired show... infused with imagery and designs from the Dada and Bauhaus art movements...". At 75 minutes it only flagged once and was indeed good entertaining fun. Earlier reviewers talked of 90 minutes and I imagine that Anderson has tightened things for the current tour - see listings.
The cabaret of Smithereens is indeed dark and surreal, aided immensely by the music of Steve Blake (for keyboards and sax) and particularly the designs of Sandy Powell which includes all manner of surreal masks, lots of unisex one-piece costumes covering from head to toe, heads wrapped in gauze (like Christmas puds!), a tutu that is a light show, rubber skirts, stilts... to name but a few. The dancers all change at the back of the stage - screened off but allowing a view of their legs so you can see them quickly getting in and out of costumes. Very tantalizing.
The performance is punctuated by the dancers processing and sashaying across the stage in line. Almost Bayadere-like, a new dancer is added every few seconds and the simple moves assume a larger, and madder, significance when multiplied up. These Bayadere revelries essentially come between the longer cabaret acts - all wonderfully inventive and I can't recall a single normal thing in any of them!
Dance purists might argue that dance was perhaps thin, but like The Concert (currently being played by the RB at Covent Garden) this is a fun piece that only the very sad would not enjoy. A recommended dose of madness for the country.