ED2013 Dance & Physical Theatre ED2013 Interviews ED2013 Week0 Edition

Shane Shambu: Cultures combine for these reality power games

By | Published on Thursday 25 July 2013

Power Games

Shane Shambu (performing on the right in the photo) may have first discovered dance, as a child, on the orders of his mother, but it was his love for the genre that turned it into a career.
Following a time performing with theatre group Complicité, Shambu formed his own company Altered Skin, and it is through that enterprise that he brings his piece ‘Power Games’ to the Fringe this August. We spoke to him about his passions, his plans and his show.

CC: How did you first become enthused by dance?
SS: I was a fat kid, and one day my mum said I could do with losing some weight. She also said I needed to learn to be Indian, which was a funny thing to say, because I definitely looked Indian! But I ended up being sent to Indian dance classes. Once there I fell in love with it, mainly because it allowed me to be so free and uninhibited.

CC: Having turned your dance into a career, you then worked for a number of years with theatre company Complicité. How did that change your perceptions of performance?
SS: Working with Complicite expanded my understanding of the body and the numerous ways in which it can be used to tell stories and communicate. Working with Artistic Director Simon McBurney, meanwhile, gave me a sense of the depth of exploration that is involved in creating work, and how to constantly challenge yourself as a creator, which is something I have kept hold of and continue within my own creative journey.

CC: You’ve now launched your own company Altered Skin. Tell us about that.
SS: Altered Skin is a dynamic new physical theatre company that blends theatre and contemporary and South Asian dance to tell modern day stories. We aim to give audiences a fresh experience that we hope will resonate with them powerfully. I set the company up to pursue projects that wouldn’t be limited by narrowly defined artistic styles, enabling me to use whatever medium is necessary to bring a scene and story to life.

CC: Altered Skin is bringing ‘Power Games’ to the Fringe. What’s it about?
SS: ‘Power Games’ follows the life of Deepak Mahendra, a stock-trading banker. His life unravels before us through a reality TV show, where the audience will decide what happens to him via a series of 50/50 decisions at crucial stages of his narrative. The show includes original music blending eastern and western sounds, visual projections over two screens, and a set that includes a bar, a flat in Canary Wharf, and a strip club!

CC: What styles of dance feature?
SS: The show uses a number of different dance performance techniques. There is both the traditional Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam and contemporary dance, mainly release-based, plus a hybrid language of the two. As we use a lot of mime and gesture in Bharatanatyam you can expect to see mime aspects too, but not in a Marcel Marceau kind of way! More a different and new perspective to gesture and mime, but all highly physical.

CC: A lot of shows in the Dance & Physical Theatre section of the Fringe are either dance or physical theatre, but it sounds like this piece combines both. Would you agree?
SS: We use dance as a medium in which to create theatre. So in essence it’s a piece of theatre that uses dance to enter the characters’ mindsets and emotional thoughts. But this is not represented in an abstract way, which a lot of dance does, but is more carefully considered through discovering gesticular mime built into sophisticated fluid movement. This allows freedom of interpretation without losing the sense of narrative.

CC: You co-wrote the piece with Jonathan Grieve, how did that partnership come about and work?
SS: I had worked with Jon and his company Para-Active back in 2000. When I was playing around with ideas of power and money for this work, I knew that he would be able to help with this, because his interest lies in audience performer connections. He also has a very good understanding of Indian Dance and the avenues I was exploring, which allowed freedom in shifting structures.

CC: When conceiving a piece like this, what generally comes first, story, movement or music?
SS: With ‘Power Games’, a basic structure based on the key themes, was developed first. I knew that the audience had to make choices at various points in a narrative. From this structure we played with movement, text and devised scenes, and together the pace slowly shaped itself. I don’t think any particular aspect takes dominance, it was about finding the way in which we could communicate the themes emotionally, powerfully and beautifully.

CC: Why did you decide to premiere the production at the Fringe?
SS: As a newly formed company that is challenging the perceptions of forms and straddling dance, theatre, physical theatre, mime, political theatre and music, it felt the perfect place to premiere. The Fringe is a place where the performance ideas and quality of delivery takes precedence over form.

CC: Other than performing, what else are you looking forward to about this year’s festival?
SS: I cannot help but look forward to some great comedy! But I’m also looking forward to some of the other works that are offering something new and, of course, the endless pints over the course of the festival!

‘Power Games’ was performed at Zoo at Edinburgh Festival 2013.

LINKS: www.alteredskin.net