Jeyasingh’s Contagion at Grange Festival

Published: 31 July 2020
Reporter: Vera Liber

Contagion Credit: Chris Nash

This August, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance is to present two different versions of Contagion, co-commissioned by 14–18 NOW to commemorate the centenary of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

Originally created as a live dance installation, Jeyasingh’s choreography is said to "echo the scientific features of a virus—rapid, random and constantly shape-shifting." Graeme Miller’s sound-score, listened to through headsets, features extracts from diaries and medical records, the fluttering of wings and the cries of birds.

On Monday 17 August, a 15-minute filmed version of Contagion, created with film director Terry Braun from a live performance at Winchester Great Hall in 2018 with conversations between Jeyasingh and Guardian dance critic Sanjoy Roy, will be the last of SJD Shorts, a series of translations of some of Jeyasingh’s works made during lockdown. It premières on Shobana Jeyasingh Dance's Facebook page at 7PM then is available for seven days on the company’s Facebook and YouTube channels.

From Friday 21 to Sunday 23 August, The Grange Festival near Winchester will create a 10-minute outdoor restaging for four dancers to suit the conditions of the present pandemic.

Jeyasingh said, “when I created Contagion, I felt the Spanish flu pandemic was only just beginning to assert itself in our collective memory. It was an event of dramatic global proportions but it had almost been forgotten. Now, two years later, we are living through our own version of it. Contagion opens with an Indian novelist’s moving account of losing most of his family to the 1918 pandemic. Then, as now, the arts create a legacy that is a true testament of our times.”

Conceived after the cancellation of The Grange Festival, Precipice is an outdoor sequence of music and dance performances directed by Sinéad O’Neill and designed by Joanna Parker using the varied natural stages offered by the buildings at The Grange. It will last an hour and be performed to audiences of up to 60, guided by Tonderai Monyevu.

Other performances include Sir John Tomlinson, singing a monologue of Hans Sachs from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Kiandra Howarth and Claire Barnett-Jones singing the flower duet from Delibes’ Lakmé and a commission from South African dancer and choreographer Mthuthuzeli November of Ballet Black. Music Director John Andrews will co-ordinate members of The Grange Festival Chorus in performances of music by Francis Poulenc and Lili Boulanger. Further musical offerings come from Johann Sebastian Bach, John Tavener, Caroline Shaw and others.