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Using dance to blend East with the West

world Updated: Oct 19, 2009 00:07 IST
Mamta Gupta

Shobana Jeyasingh and her dance company have blurred the boundaries between East and West. She has created a new form of dance — a seamless integration between Bharatnatyam and modern western classical dance.

Speaking to the BBC’s Hindi service during a rehearsal, Shobana said, “I didn’t do this with much thought. I learnt Bharatnatyam and still remain a great admirer of Bharatnatyam. But when I started living in London and choreographing here, I felt that my dance creations should bond with my lifestyle. What I see around me is a unique blend of different cultures. My choreography should reflect my surroundings. That’s how I started creating my dance works”.

It is quite common for girls born in Tamil families to learn Bharatnatyam but Shobana displayed extraordinary talent right from the beginning. It would appear to everyone that her skills got her to Britain. But, that is not the case. She smiled and said, “Actually, my love for Shakespeare brought me here”.

Shobana was born in Chennai in 1957. She studied English literature and, at the same time, honed her dancing skills. In the decade spanning 1980s, she gave dance performances across many cities in the UK.

In 1988, she established the ‘Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company’ (SJDC). Shobana’s style integrates the best of dancing traditions of both countries — from the acting poses of Bharatnatyam to the elegant, elastic moves of the Western ballet. The dynamic and bold style of her choreography has captivated international audiences over the past two decades.

Like her dances convey Britain’s multicultural imprint, her dance troupe also includes people from different backgrounds. She says that her dance company has artists from Malaysia, America, Italy, India and Spain.

Though Shobana lives in London, she feels a deep bond with India. She makes annual trips to India to meet her parents and relatives there.

Besides performing in several European cities, the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company has left its footprints in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and New York.

India has, however, eluded Shobana and her troupe.

When asked for the reason, she replied, “This is one question that many people ask me. My company is well-known in India. But I am still awaiting an invitation.”

Shobana has created dance works not only for the stage but also for the camera.

She has been honoured with various awards and recognitions — the Digital Dance Awards, South Block Show Award and London Music and Dance award being the major ones.

In 1995, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II awarded Shobana with the distinction of “MBE” (Member of the British Empire) for her distinguished services in the field of dance. In 2008, she was awarded the ‘Asian Women of Achievement Award’ for her contribution to the world of Art and Culture

The second part of the series couldn’t be carried in the Sunday paper as we were closed for Diwali on Saturday. From next week, the series will run in the Sunday edition.