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NTU Sustainability in Enterprise

Dance Theatre Review: Material Men Redux at Nottingham Lakeside Arts

10 February 17 words: Bridie Squires

We went down to Nottingham Lakeside Arts’ Djanogly Theatre to check out Shobana Jeyasingh’s Material Men redux…

We hear a clinical voiceover – a letter from Liverpool merchant John Gladstone, 1836 – which details a request for workers from Calcutta. The letter came at a time after slavery was outlawed throughout the British Empire, but of course this meant a reshuffling of terminology and formalities as opposed to outright emancipation.

British merchants brought in workers, mostly from India, to complete manual labour for a fee that just about covered their rent. People were physically punished, made to work ridiculous hours in awful conditions, and many died either on the voyage or while in captivity. Jeyasingh’s choreographed piece illustrates both the traced Indian heritage and style representations of the two dancers – Sooraj Subramaniam, who specialises in classical Indian Bharatanatyam, and Shailesh Bahoran, a self-taught hip hop dancer.

A colourful sari, a beautiful strip of material, is creatively used throughout the piece to various effects – sometimes bringing the two men closely together, sometimes used to oppress, sometimes to keep them apart. There’s a point where it appears Bahoran wishes to sit down and eat at the sari, even just view or touch it, and it is cruelly tugged from his reach every time he sits down. The two styles act as a juxtaposition, yet effortlessly melt into each other to illustrate the contrasting narratives of home and memories, and the marginalisation and resistance of hip hop.

A multimedia show, the sari is used as a projector screen, where real heritage footage illustrates the history of these stories. There are bursts of audio – lists of the names of human beings, their ages, and often the ways they died. One of which was ‘accidental gunshot wounds’. The use of metal poles create a prison-like setting which eventually dissipates as we end the battle between the two men – contrasts in composure, posture and styles really highlight varying levels of struggle, and a strip of light poking its way through the foot of the wall reminds of the men who were never able to see it.

The show is emotional, arduous, and enlightening. It’s a stunningly distressing piece, telling untold stories through sweat and exacting movement, while Jeyasingh both educates and wows through two artists who are truly mesmerising to watch.

Material Men Redux took place at Nottingham Lakeside Arts’ Djanogly Theatre on Tuesday 7 February 2017 and is currently touring the UK.

Shobana Jeyasingh website

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