Interview with Shobana Jeyasingh

Material Men Redux

Shobana Jeyasingh is an internationally-recognised choreographer who has been creating dynamic, fearless and enigmatic dance works for over 27 years. She brings her latest work Material Men Redux – a virtuoso piece for two dazzling performers of the Indian diaspora - to The Place on 28-29 April.

Tell us about Shobana Jeyasingh Dance – why dance and was there a decisive moment or experience you can recall that took you on this journey?

As a small child I was taken to see many Tamil films where the heroines danced and seemed like goddesses to me! They were all trained dancers and I realised that if I wanted to be like them I would need a good teacher.

Over the years you have collaborated with many interesting artists, do you have a wish-list and who would you love to work with in the future?

I would love to work with imaginative fashion designers like Hussein Chalayan. Some of my past projects have been with scientists and I would love to work with more.

Tell us a bit about the show Material Men redux which will be showing at The Place and your inspiration behind the work.

I wanted to work with two dancers who are each exceptional in their own styles – Souraj Subramaniam in Bharatha Natyam and Odissi and Shailesh Bahoran in hip hop. When I started worked with them in the studio I found out that they both shared family histories linked to the indentured labour system of the 19th century. Material Men redux brings all these things together, with film and text as well as the dance. I use a traditional sari in various ways through the piece to evoke the turbulence of leaving and arrival as well as the comfort and burden of memory.

In Material Men you worked with the composer Elena Kats-Chernin and the sound designer Leafcutter John can you expand a bit on how you approach working in collaboration and the process behind this?

I like the music to be created for the dance so that dance decisions can lead the music rather than vice versa. So both Elena and Leafcutter John at various times came into the dance studio to see the work as it developed and they created their music and soundscore in response to both this and conversations with me and the dancers.

Both the dancers in Material Men redux, Shailesh  Bahoran and Sooraj Submaniam use very different dance styles  (classical Indian and Hip Hop) how do you work with such a diverse range of dance vocabularies and what were the highlights and challenges of working in this way?

As far as choreography in concerned the vocabulary that a dancer brings need not be a “deal breaker”! Choreography is about designing movement and while movement familiar to the choreographer is quicker to work with, unfamiliar movements bring their own rewards. I knew much more about Sooraj’s dance style (Indian classical dance) than I did about Shailesh’s. However I learnt a lot by watching him and asking questions! It always comes down to working, erasing and reworking the elements till the right configuration is found.

You have a history of showing work in unusual and off-site spaces, including the work TooMortal in 2013 at St Pancras Church, are there any other spaces in Camden that you find inspiring?

The Roundhouse and Cecil Sharp House are both incredible buildings. And to do something by the canal and Camden Market could be an interesting challenge!

Can you tell us more about your learning and participation programme and how this evolved?

The L+P programme has recently had a huge boost thanks to a private family foundation.  This has meant we now have a part time L+P manager and are beginning to rebuild our resources and activity in this crucial area.  Our focus is with communities and schools associated with the venues we tour to and if at all possible we love students to come and see a performance too.  Programmes are incredibly varied ranging from post show talks through to participating in Big Dance Bus last summer.  To encourage access we subsidise all our educational activity.

What other projects are on the horizon for you?

We’re bringing Bayadere – the Ninth Life to Sadler’s Wells on 16 and 17 October. It’s my response to the 19th century clichés of the glamorous temple dancer that abounded in Petipa’s original ballet.


Shobana Jeyasingh photo JP Masclet
Shobana Jeyasingh, photograph by JP Masclet


About Material Men Redux

“…skilfulness, nuanced power and sheer watchability” The Times (Material Men, 2015)

Material Men Redux is a full length virtuoso piece for two dazzling performers of the Indian diaspora. Their chosen dance styles could not be more different – classical Indian and hip hop. However, they share a history rooted in the dark realities of colonial migration and plantation labour. Material Men Redux explores the violence of loss and the creation of new ways of belonging.

This show features a score by acclaimed Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin played live on stage by The Smith Quartet.

Shobana Jeyasingh says: “Indentured labour which replaced slavery resulted in the migration of over three million Indians to provide cheap labour (known derogatively as coolies) for the European powers in plantations across the globe. It was abolished in 1917.”

Suitable for 12+ years


Fri 28 Apr Stay after the show for an informal discussion with the company.

en Redux

Material Men Redux at The Place from 28-29 April 2017. Find out more here