Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company: Just Add Water? @ Artsdepot, London

choreographed by
Shobana Jeyasingh
Regardless of cultural background, food is a great excuse to get together and enjoy both the meal and the company.

Choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh’s take on this theme, Just Add Water?, is a mixture of spoken word and different forms of dance.

Performed in several languages by the multicultural cast, the piece is rich and mixed, blending bharatanatyam, an ancient South Asian dance form, with classical dance and martial arts. The result is a pleasing and intriguing hour-long show.
The dancers enter the stage reciting the recipes of what apparently are their favourite foods. The elegant Mavin Khoo takes us through his recipe for chicken curry, while he performs a bharatanatyam solo. Each repeated ingredient takes on new meaning as he accompanies these with stamps, precise wrist twists, and comic timing.

Spanish-speaking Avatara Ayuso reminisces about her father cooking paella when she was younger, even instructing cast members in the correct pronunciation of the dish as she poses in arabesque.

And a recipe for American pumpkin pie is recited first with sweetness, then ascending menace by the expressive Kamala Devam. She does battle with Jose Agudos own pumpkin recipe, using capoeira style moves as they each strive to impress on each other the superiority of their dish.

Later in the section Food Fight, Khamlane Halsackda and Noora Kela connect to the rest of the cast in a long chain, turning and twisting as they question Khoo as to what a laksa is (a South East Asian noodle dish), a question which he never answers.

Just Add Water? apparently was conceived by Jeyasingh and composer Orlando Gough in a London restaurant, while talking about new UK citizenship tests. Jeyasingh wanted to explore the way we integrate with each other through food and how this helps us to fit into society.

Cultural divisions and conflicts are neatly shown through preferences for foods. For instance, pork sausages, described with relish by the cast, are rejected as “haram” by Khoo. In Marinade the ensemble comes together as one writhing mass, to a background of frying oil, and a light show of psychedelic patterns, like a dish furiously bubbling away on the stove.

Full of good ideas, these later sections could have been improved with slightly less stiff performances from the cast, and a bit more pace. The visual backdrop of red and yellow patterns jarred with the elegance of the first few sections, and detracted from the dancing. A costume change for the girls seemed unnecessary given that the dimmed lighting made it hard to make out what they were wearing. The temptation seems to have been to cram in more detail, when the same result could have been achieved with less.

The combination of dance forms and the coherent choreography were ultimately very satisfying. The addition of tempting recipes means this is a treat for foodies and dance buffs alike.

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