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‘Watch a dance work as if it were a science fiction film’

Episode 4 of Surface Tension investigates the impact of science and science fiction on Shobana’s work. Presenter Sanjoy Roy asks what are the connections between science and dance, and sci-fi and Shobana’s choreography? Phantasmaton (2002), In Flagrante (2014), Trespass (2015) and Contagion (2018) feature in this episode. Listen now on SpotifySoundcloud, Libsyn, YouTube and iTunes.



Shobana talks about her interest in science fiction, and how she became re-acquainted with science as an adult. Bladerunner, The Matrix and Terminator are among Shobana’s favourite films and have all inspired her work in some way.

Shobana and Sanjoy look back at Phantasmaton and the influence of the book The Location of Culture by Homi Bhabha and how it introduced the difference between the concepts of ‘fusion’ and ‘hybridity’. Dancers created their own versions of hybrids as part of the rehearsal process. The moment of the dancer glancing in bharatanatyam was a key motif for Shobana and filmmaker Pete Gomes and they played with this figure to provide the background and set for Phantasmaton.

Conversation moves on to the ‘uncanny valley’ concept and robotics, which are central to Trespass (2015) where Shobana choreographed a duet with a robotic ‘entity’ and a human dancer.

We hear from Rauiri Glynn, Director of the Interactive Architecture Lab at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL about the collaboration on Trespass and how this process diverged from the normal method of building a robot, allowing them to introduce a whole series of behaviours for a dancer to interact with.

In Flagrante (2014), was commissioned by Marina Wallace at Central St Martins for an exhibition on cell division – mitosis – with the aim of communicating how cells divided to the general public, with dance as the mediator for that process. Marina talks about bringing together the scientific and choreographic worlds and using dance as an intermediary to explain what scientists do in the lab.

For this project, Shobana was partnered with Dr Kim Nasmyth, Professor of Biochemistry at Oxford, who joins us down the line from France and talks about how they communicated about the process of mitosis and how to present it in a dramatic and watchable way. The end result was the film In Flagrante.

Lastly, we move on to Contagion from 2018, which took the Spanish Flu virus as its source material, which killed more people than in the entire four years of the WWI. Virologist and leading specialist in influenza Dr John Oxford talks about the flu and its global impact. He asked Shobana ‘How are you going to choreograph dance around the flu?

1. Trespass
2. Contagion
3. In Flagrante

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