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Contagion – Shobana Jeyasingh Dance

Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland, UK. 14.09.2016. Shobana Jeyasingh Dance perform "Contagion", in the Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick-Upon-Tweed Barracks and Main Guard. Contagion is co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary. Contagion commemorates the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed more people than the First World War itself. The piece is inspired by the nature and spread of the flu virus, the unseen enemy that mankind was battling within, while engaging in more conventional warfare in the world outside. The striking work of the Austrian artist Egon Schiele, who fell victim to the Spanish flu, forms a visual footnote to the piece. Set to an atmospheric soundscape, this dance installation with digital visuals echoes the scientific features of a virus – rapid, random and constantly shape-shifting. Eight female dancers contort and mutate as they explore both the resilience and the vulnerability of the human body. This is a standing performance presented in unusual venues, many with connections to the First World War. The dancers are: Vânia Doutel Vaz, Eva Escrich Gonzalez, Emily Pottage, Rachel Maybank, Estela Merlos, Avatâra Ayuso, Sunbee Han, Ruth Voon. Photograph © Jane Hobson.

This weekend saw the final stop on a UK Tour of a new contemporary dance work by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance commemorating the influenza pandemic of 1918. The show was commissioned by 14-18 Now as one of a series of Art commissions to commemorate the centenary of World War One.

Projections were integral to the storytelling of the piece. They played upon Merle Hensel’s enigmatic set of cascading white plinths as well as the bodies of the dancers with imagery ranging from a solitary girl skipping to oversized viruses creeping across the space and Egon Schiele – inspired sick and dying figures. Video also dramatises the effects of the virus with lungs appearing on the chests of prostrate dancers that are overtaken by antibodies, haemorrhage textures and the black-blue of cyanosis as oxygen leaves the bloodstream.

(Photos by Nina Dunn and Jane Hobson)

Yaron Abulafia’s strong and dimensional lighting combined with Graeme Miller’s score and testimonials (delivered through individual headphones) combined to create an atmospheric and emotional environment within which the extraordinary movement of the dancers could be showcased.

The show received an extraordinary reception on its way around the country, touring to non-standard performance spaces ranging from Museums to former Army Barracks Gymnasia.

★★★★★ Broadway World  ★★★★★ Culture Whisper   ★★★★★ The Times

[…] These boxes served brilliantly as hospital beds, coffins and projection screens (for Nina Dunn’s excellent video graphics).

★★★★ The Guardian  ★★★★ The Evening Standard   ★★★★ The List

Jeyasingh’s name may be above the door, but this work is a true collaboration, with Merle Hensel’s set and costumes, Yaron Abulafia’s lighting, Nina Dunn’s video design and Graeme Miller’s composition melting into one another with sleek fluidity.

The rig consisted of 7 RZ970 Panasonic Laser projectors controlled by Disguise Media Server supplied by Blue-i Event Technology. The Chief Video Engineer was Gillian Tan with Jon Rettke as Touring Production Video. Matt Brown and Laura Salmi were assistants to Nina Dunn, who designed the video. Olly Venning provided 3D animation and thanks are due to Peter Kirkup for his consultancy.

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