This autumn Shobana’s latest dance work Contagion tours to six science, art and war-related sites across the country. The tour opens on 15 and 16 September at the Gymnasium Gallery in Berwick-upon-Tweed, a former army barracks where soldiers were sent to keep fit during the First World War.
Contagion commemorates the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic – which ravaged the world to a greater degree than the Great War itself. It is co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, and supported by Wellcome.
A promenade piece, Contagion considers the irony that, while human warfare raged in the trenches, a silent and far deadlier enemy was waging war within the human body itself. Shobana’s choreography echoes the scientific features of a virus – rapid, random, constantly shape-shifting – where eight female dancers contort, strategise and mutate as they explore both the resilience and the vulnerability of the human body.
The extraordinary work of artist Egon Schiele, himself a victim of the pandemic, is a powerful footnote to the choreography. His depiction of twisted bodies and expressive lines perfectly captures the physical and pychological anxieties of his times
In 1918 a Spanish flu pandemic infected one third of the world’s population and killed over 50 million people. Directly exacerbated by troop and civilian migrations from the First World War, the virus killed more people than the war itself.
Shobana Jeyasingh says: “The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic whose centenary is marked this year is beginning to assert itself in our collective memory as one of the most dramatic episodes of global proportions. I very much hope that Contagion will serve as an act of commemoration and remembering.”
Jenny Waldman, Director of 14-18 NOW, said: “We are proud to commission Contagion as a highlight of our final 14-18 NOW season, in which we continue to engage people in the centenary of the First World War through the lens of art. Shobana Jeyasingh’s new work marks 100 years since one of the deadliest disasters in human history with a powerful exploration of the 1918 pandemic through movement.”
The research for Contagion involved virologists such as Professor John Oxford, Emeritus Professor of virology at the University of London, whose work on the 1918 Spanish flu is world renowned, as well as medical historians and writers including Laura Spinney.
For Contagion, Shobana Jeyasingh has collaborated with designers Merle Hensel (set and costume), Yaron Abulafia (lighting) and Nina Dunn (video design) and composer Graeme Miller. The dancers are Avâtara Ayuso, Catarina Carvalho, Emily Pottage, Estela Merlos, Noora Kela, Rachel Maybank, Sunbee Han and Vânia Doutel Vaz.
Saturday 15 September 1pm, 3.30pm, 6.30pm
Sunday 16 September 1pm, 3.30pm
Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed
Free but ticketed
Saturday 22 & Sunday 23 September 12pm, 2.30pm, 6pm
Winchester Great Hall
Contagion is included in the entry fee to Winchester Great Hall – £3 for adults, £2 for children under-16
Friday 5 October 7.30pm
Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich
Tickets from £12, £9 concessions
Thursday 18 & Friday 19 October 10.30am, 2pm and 6pm
St Gabriel’s Church, Sunderland
Free but ticketed
Sunday 21 October, times tbc
Imperial War Museum North, Manchester, part of Manchester Science Festival
Friday 2 November 6.30pm, 9pm (talk at 7.30pm)
Saturday 3 November 6pm, 8.30pm (talk at 7pm)
British Library as part of Late at the Library
£12 performance only and £15 performance and talk
(on sale date TBC)