Material Man redux is a fascinating work that combines disparate dance styles and commonwealth history into a seamless piece of dance that really makes you think about where we have come from and might go. At a time when some countries are becoming more centred on themselves, it’s both an historical reminder of terrible things done in the past and what can be achieved by bringing cultures together and celebrating that fellowship.
Two very different dancers carry the entire 55 minute work: Sooraj Subramaniam is a Malaysian classical Indian dancer and Shailesh Bahoran, a self trained hip hop dancer from Suriname. While their styles may be radically different they share a cultural heritage – their forebearers were from India and became migrants – often plantation workers. That trips so easily off the tongue and yet, as a programme note by Sanjoy Roy makes clear, these 19th century migrations were dreadful and not far removed from the slavery which the migrant system effectively replaced.
Material Man redux is about exploring the past with the means of today by those who are in that line and know what it still is to be outsiders. There are beautiful shared moments and much drama in seeing the fears of humble folk, often exploited and ripped away from all they knew. Although there is classical Indian and beefy urban movement on display, often when they come together it is fused into bold contemporary language… which can then dissolve away as they separate to excel individually again. Added texture comes from a simple set of poles that might be sugar cane through to country boundaries or prison walls and a length of beautiful sari fabric that conjures home, the love of families/mother and also the worries of demons. Live music comes from The Smith Quartet playing a strong score (very listenable in its own right) by Elena Kats-Chernin, supplemented with electronic sections by Leafcutter John.
There is so much to like about the intent behind Material Man redux and its clever weaving together of many cultural strands, but what it doesn’t do is give your a clear ‘narrative’ of what is being evoked at any one time. The programme gives the context but the 55 minutes you really navigate yourself, picking up on this snippet or that or just being rather bemused. It’s great when you think you get a reference, but I’d prefer that there was a little more overt telegraphing of the journey. But the dancers are riveting to watch no matter if you understand their full intent or not. The only thing really missing was a second, contrasting work, to fill out the evening. But ultimately Shailesh Bahoran and Sooraj Subramaniam put on a hell of a display that you’ll not find the likes of elsewhere – amen to that.