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Material Men

Material Men is a virtuoso piece for two dazzling performers of the Indian diaspora, who chose to dance very differently. Contrasts in style between classical and hip hop, as well as similarities of origin are the starting points for a dynamic exploration of rhythm, location and shared history. Material Men featured a newly commissioned score by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin, performed live by The Smith Quartet. Additional sound design was provided by Leafcutter John.

Material Men was commissioned by Southbank Centre, and premiered in Autumn 2015 in a double bill with the much-acclaimed Strange Blooms.


In Episode 1, Guardian Dance Critic Sanjoy Roy talks to Shobana and composer Michael Nyman about their collaboration on Configurations from 1989.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London
 Sept 2015
Double bill with Strange Blooms

The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
22 Sept 2015
Double bill with Strange Blooms

Brighton Dome
6 Oct 2015
Double bill with Strange Blooms

Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
8 Oct 2015
Double bill with Strange Blooms

Aberystwyth Arts Centre
15 Oct 2015
Double bill with Strange Blooms

Bahoran’s and Subramaniam’s dance forms… produce a tension that is truly captivating to watch. The standing ovation and roar of the audience really said it all

Asian Culture Vulture

…marvellously intense… the double edges of clarity and complexity, contrast and connection, are pure Jeyasingh

The Guardian

… one of our brainiest choreographers … skilfulness, nuanced power and sheer watchability

The Times

Creative Team

Shobana Jeyasingh CBE / Concept, Choreography & Direction

“When Shobana Jeyasingh is firing on all cylinders there is hardly another UK choreographer who can touch her” – The Times


Shobana Jeyasingh was born in Chennai ,India and has lived in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. She founded Shobana Jeyasingh Dance in 1989 and has created over 60 critically acclaimed works for stage, screen and out and indoor sites ranging from Palladian monasteries in Venice to contemporary fountains in London.


Shobana’s work is noted for both its intellectual rigour and its visceral physicality. It is rooted in her experience and perspective of life as a female postcolonial citizen of the world. She trained in Bharata Natyam (the classical dance of Tamil Nadu), under Vazhuvoor Samaraj Pillai and read English Literature, specialising in Shakespeare at The University of Sussex. Over the course of a distinguished career she has collaborated with scientists, curators, composers, film makers, digital creatives, dancers and designers to make dynamic multi-disciplinary work that places the body centre stage in the dialogue of ideas.


“Petipa’s La Bayadère is the ultimate orientalist fantasy. Now, 138 years – and a seismic shift in sensibility – later, Petipa’s ballet is ripe for reinvention. And there’s surely no choreographer better qualified for the task than Shobana Jeyasingh …marvellous, inspiring mesh of history, poetry and ideas” – The Guardian


Her work has toured extensively in UK, Europe, USA, Turkey, India, China Singapore and Hong Kong. A number of works form part of the National Curriculum for Dance in the UK. Notable commissions include work for Rambert, Ballet Black, Company Wayne McGregor, the Venice Biennale, Beijing Modern Dance Academy, Contemporary City Dance Company Hong Kong, and Opera National du Rhin in France. Works such as Faultline (a response to the London tube bombings) TooMortal (for historic churches) Material Men redux (on 19th century indentured labour) have been included in UK end of year best-of lists for their respective years.


“With her emotionally honest approach to choreography, she has produced more than 50 dance works that make the audience think, dream and dissent.” – The HIndu


“The choreography is dizzyingly vibrant, absolutely engrossing … While the surface is hard and aggressive the dancers are ambiguous human subtle ” – Dagens Nyheter Stockholm


Her work for theatre includes choreography for the trailblazing Tara Arts in London and Tamasha Theatre Company. She has worked in productions at the Half Moon Theatre and at The National Theatre London.


The show is emotional, arduous, and enlightening. It’s a stunningly distressing piece, telling untold stories through sweat and exacting movement, while Jeyasingh both educates and wows through two artists who are truly mesmerising to watch. ” -Theatre Review


Shobana’s contributions to dance include writings, talks as well as presentations on numerous media platforms. She worked as researcher and scriptwriter for two pioneering programmes on British Asian Arts for Channel Four. More recently she was a judge for BBC Young Dancer in both 2017 and 2019. She has served on the panels of the Arts Council of England, Greater London Arts, London Contemporary Dance Trust and The Royal Opera House. She is patron of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing.


Shobana was a founder member and research fellow of Rescen at Middlesex University a research centre into processes, practices and contexts of performance. She was invited to take on the role of knowledge producer by the Cultural Institute at Kings College London in 2014 which led to Translocations, a series of films where choreographic narratives met a range of academic disciplines such as Informatics and Neurobiology. She was awarded a Nesta Dream Fellowship to visit China and Japan and experience their contemporary dance cultures. Shobana holds honorary doctorates from the universities of Leicester and Chichester as well as an honorary MA from the university of Surrey. She was named Asian Woman of Achievement in Art and Culture 2008. Shobana was awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at the WOW Women in Creative Industries Awards in 2017. In 2020 she was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).


” Jeyasingh plays elegant games with the question of how an art form can feed off its history without actually cannibalising it. Such tempering of energy with intelligence is the mark of a classic” -The Evening Standard


Elena Kats-Chernin / Composer

Elena Kats-Chernin is one of the most cosmopolitan composers working today, reaching millions through her prolific catalogue of works for theatre, ballet, orchestra and chamber ensemble. Born in Tashkent, she received training at the Gnessin Musical College before immigrating to Australia. She graduated from the New South Wales Conservatory before studying in Germany where she remained for 13 years, returning to Australia in 1994. Her energetic, and often propulsive music has been choreographed by dance-makers around the world. In 2000, she collaborated with Meryl Tankard; Deep Sea Dreaming (part of the opening ceremonies of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games). In 2011, Elena was appointed Composer-in-Residence with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Her adaptation of Monteverdi’s three operas at the Komische Oper Berlin premiered in 2012, and in 2014 Frankenstein won the Sydney Theatre Award 2013 for Best Score. Three Dancers, choreographed by Didy Veldman for Rambert premiered at Sadler’s Wells in 2015.

Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.

Photo by Bridget Elliot

Simon Daw / Set & Costume Designer

Simon’s work is focused on two areas: the design of set, costume and video for theatre, dance and opera; and the creation of interactive performance works.

1984, Northern Ballet; World Factory, Metis Arts/Young Vic; Owen Wingrave, Aldeburgh Music/Edinburgh International Festival; Sheppey, French Without Tears, The Philanderer, Orange Tree Theatre; Eventual Progress, Ekaterinburg State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre; Waiting for Godot, Wonderful Tennessee, Democracy, The Winter’s Tale, The Daughter-In-Law, Sheffield Theatres; The Metamorphosis, Linbury, Royal Opera House and The Joyce, New York; Dead Heavy Fantastic, Lost Monsters, Liverpool Everyman; As One, Royal Ballet; Dolls, National Theatre of Scotland; Fast Labour, Hampstead Theatre/West Yorkshire Playhouse; DNA, Baby Girl, The Miracle, The Enchantment, National Theatre; Elling, Bush and Trafalgar Studios; Romeo and Juliet, RSC Stratford/Albery; Bloom, Rambert.

Bruno Poet / Lighting Designer

Dance credits include: Zeitgeist (Alastair Marriott at London Coliseum); Connectome, Other Stories (Royal Ballet); A Visitation, I Thought I Heard Somebody Calling (Scottish Dance); Dog (Hofesh Schecter for Scottish Dance); Tree Finger Soup (Rambert) and Elsa Canasta (Scottish Ballet).

Recent Opera and Theatre credits include: Don Giovanni (ROH); La Boheme (Washington National Opera); Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Treasure Island (National); Miss Saigon (West End); The Two Gentleman of Verona (RSC).

Bruno received the 2012 Olivier Award for Best Lighting Design for Frankenstein at The National Theatre and the Knight of Illumination Award 2013 for his concert lighting design for acclaimed Icelandic band Sigur Rós’ world tour.

/ Electronic Music The Smith Quartet / Live Music

(L-R) Ian Humphries (Violin), Deirdre Cooper (Cello), Rick Koster (Violin), Nic Pendlebury (Viola)

For over 25 years, The Smith Quartet have been at the forefront of the world’s contemporary music scene. They have developed a repertoire by some of the world’s most exciting composers and have established an international reputation for their dynamic style and original approach to contemporary music.

They have performed at many of the major music festivals and venues in the UK and around the world, and collaborated with unique artists of different genres including dance. They have broadcast extensively for the BBC and recorded more than 20 discs including the Glass and Reich quartets with Signum Records.

Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Rachel Shipp / Production Manager Fred De Faye / Sound Engineer

A sonic artist and composer, and member of the People Show theatre, Fred learnt his trade in Paris as a recording engineer, moving to England to become the personal recording engineer of the Eurhythmics.

Through his career he has mixed and recorded albums for the likes of Bob Dylan, The Prodigy, Depeche mode, Tom Petty, David Gray and many more. He has sound designed for theatrical experiences created by Punchdrunk, Burberry, Tods and Philipp Plein fashion shows in Paris, London and Milan. Fred has also composed music for choreographer Garance Marneur, on behalf of Levy Dance in San Francisco, for Alone Together and Pull Me Closer part of the SF International Art Festival 2017.

Touring as a live sound engineer, his broad client base includes choreographer Lee Anderson, Patti Smith, and the KLF Welcome to the Dark Ages. Fred has worked with Shobana Jeyasingh for the past eight years.


Shailesh Bahoran

Shailesh Bahoran is a versatile dancer, theatre director and choreographer. His work is characterised by a free artistic vision in which he continuously looks to stimulate moods and emotions from his audience; this philosophical approach, innovative and experimental pieces has led to acclaim throughout the dance world. In addition to being a theatre-maker, Shailesh is a versatile hip hop dancer who is distinguished by his phenomenal technique, originality and expressiveness. He has firm roots in the hip hop culture but is certainly not afraid to think outside the box, and has worked with Dutch National Ballet, Don’t Hit Mama, Netherlands Symphony Orchestra and the Amsterdam Academy of the Arts.

Photo by Steven Tips

Sooraj Subramaniam

Sooraj Subramaniam began training at the Sutra Dance Theatre, Malaysia, in Bharatanatyam, Odissi, classical ballet and contemporary dance forms. He graduated with an Advanced Diploma in Performing Arts (Dance) from the Western Australian Academy for Performing Arts.

Since 2007 Sooraj has been working in the United Kingdom, principally with Srishti – Nina Rajarani Dance Creations, and also with Akademi, Balbir Singh Dance Company and Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, performing across the UK and Europe. Currently he lives in Belgium and works as a freelancer.

Photo by Simon Richardson


Commissioned by Southbank Centre in 2015
Music commissioned with funding from the RPS Drummond Fund
Photos by Jane Hobson

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