Jeyasingh, Shobana (1957–) By O’Shea, Janet
Shobana Jeyasingh is a British choreographer whose work deploys both modern and postmodern aesthetics. Drawing on the bharata natyam form in which she trained, Jeyasingh deconstructs the classical vocabulary through a process she describes as ‘asking questions of the adavus [units of movement]’. Jeyasingh’s choreography also incorporates pedestrian movement, postmodern dance, ballet, and martial arts such as kalaripayattu. She works within a high modernist tradition that privileges choreographic form over dramatic expression, highlighting non-representational movement, fragmentation, and the arrangement of dancers in complex groupings; she also, especially in more recent work, engages with postmodern, thematic concerns such as taking the surface seriously, exploring personal narratives, and reflecting on the complexity of belonging. An articulate critic as well as a choreographer, Jeyasingh has created a series of commentaries in which she reflects on postcoloniality, globalization, and urbanization as they play out in her work. She was also one of the first authors to discuss the contingent and constructed nature of the bharata natyam tradition. As one of the leaders in the field of contemporary South Asian dance, Jeyasingh created a space in the contemporary British dance milieu for choreographers working with classical non-Western vocabularies. She led the way for a generation of choreographers to challenge the racialized underpinnings of British contemporary dance as well as to query the imperative that South Asian classical forms demonstrate historical continuity, thereby contributing to the vibrant field of South Asian dance in Britain and extending understandings of experimentation in British contemporary dance.