For her part Shantala Shivalingappa was born in Madras, India, and brought up in Paris, so she, too, is fascinated by the intersections of cultures. She trained in Kuchipudi, a form of Indian dance-drama, but over a versatile career has collaborated with Maurice Béjart (1789… et nous), theatre director Peter Brook (Miranda in The Tempest and Ophelia in Hamlet), and Japanese choreographer Ushio Amagatsu (Ibuki).
Crucially, both Cherkaoui and Shivalingappa worked with the late, great German choreographer Pina Bausch, and it was she who invited them both to work together in 2008, just one year before her premature death.
Not surprisingly then, quite a lot of Pina Bausch’s unique style of performance infuses Play, which is dedicated to her memory.
Play references the games people play, not only actual games – chess has a central part in this work – but the more complex games people play with each other.
It starts with a prologue where the two dancers and five musicians of varying nationalities take their places on a series of platforms, and prompted by an ethereal melody coaxed out of a Japanese harp launch into a soft wistful song.
The heavy platforms are moved out of the way (a rearrangement of props which recurs through the piece and becomes rather tiresome) leaving centre-stage a table with a chess board. Cherkaoui and Shivalingappa launch into the fastest ever chess game, its dizzying moves projected onto the backdrop.
Then the dancing starts with Shivalingappa leading, while Cherkaoui behind her copies her gestures, arms and expressive hands evoking images of India and its culture: Krishna, gardens, ornate temples….
As good a mover as Cherkaoui is, the eye is irrevocably drawn to Shivalingappa’s alluring presence. Small boned and beautifully proportioned, she looks as elegant in grey cargo pants and a light sleeveless black top as she surely would the in the most intricate and bejewelled traditional Indian dancer’s costume. Her dancing is refined, charismatic and suggestive of dreamy landscapes. Later on, contemporary dancing, fluid and floor-bound, finds a space in Play; and Shivalingappa proves that she is as a adept at its more physical contortions as she is with the delicate gesturing of her own art.
They’re totally attuned, but not for long. As their games turn ever more intricate, they become characters in grotesque masks, their communication misfiring; or they try to dialogue through the use of slightly sinister life-size puppets.
The musicians seamlessly knit together Japanese drumming, Italian medieval songs, and Spanish folk songs, and at one point Cherkaoui, eyes twinkling with mischief, launches into A Whole New World, from the musical Aladdin.
In the last section, Shivalingappa, sitting front stage with legs dangling over the edge, launches into a speech about happiness, how it differs from pleasure and how to master the path towards it. She does it with huge charm, but it comes across as slightly preachy.
Play is a show of many riches – that is its strength and paradoxically its weakness too. It dazzles and challenges, but also bemuses, and its slightly disjointed richness proves occasionally a little indigestible.
|What||Review: Cherkaoui/Shivalingappa Play|
|Where||Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
On 04 Sep 18, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour 15 mins no interval
|Price||£22-£28 (+ £3 booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book via the Southbank website|