Shobana Jeyasingh Dance announces ‘Contagion’

22 Jan 2018

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance: ‘Contagion’. Design by Spy Studio; original photo by Chris Nash

A major new dance work exploring viral contagion and war as pandemic in science, art and war-related sites across the UK

Opening at the Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed

15 & 16 September 2018, co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary

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.

This autumn, choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh, known for using the intellectual and physical power of contemporary dance to investigate the world around her, is marking the centenary with Contagion, her first major new work since 2015.

Co-commissioned by 14–18 NOW and supported by Wellcome Trust, Contagion is a 40-minute promenade dance work for war, art and science-related sites. It opens at the Gymnasium Gallery in Berwick-upon-Tweed, a former army barracks where soldiers were sent to keep fit during the first world war, in September.

In Contagion, Jeyasingh explores ideas around viral pandemic and the metaphor of the virus conducting a parallel warfare against humans. The extraordinary work of artist Egon Schiele, who was a victim of the pandemic, is a powerful footnote to the choreography.  His twisted body shapes and expressive lines reflected early understandings of neuroscience and psychology.

Jeyasingh’s choreography will echo the scientific features of a virus – rapid, random, agile and adaptive – as eight female dancers contort , strategise and mutate as they explore the resilience as well as the vulnerability  of the human body.

Contagion’s collaborators include set and costume designer Merle Hensel, lighting designer Yaron Abulafia and video designer Nina Dunn.

Throughout the creative process, Jeyasingh has been advised by Professor John Oxford, Emeritus Professor of Virology at the University of London, the UK’s top influenza expert whose work on the 1918 Spanish flu is world renowned.

Running alongside the tour of Contagion is Spanish Flu Now (working title), a web project created by Flying Object which imagines the social and cultural impact of Spanish flu happening today. A series of Instagram short stories, posted in real time to the same Instagram feed, will chart the experiences of different individuals. Each story will be based in historical fact but is being retold via today’s internet culture – selfies, memes, journals, conspiracy theories, journals, subcultures, trends and hashtags.

Further tour dates to be announced.