True to its name, the Mumbai-based Shapeshift Collective conjures up yet another unusual arts venture — a choral performance with a difference titled Lullaby, Stranger. Attempting to break the mould of traditional concert presentations, the setting of the show will be a dimly lit chamber with mattresses strewn over the floor. Those in the audience would select one ‘bed’ each on which they would spend the roughly one-hour duration of the performance ‘lying down’. As the advisory explicitly states, ‘Sitting, standing, moving around or talking is not permitted.’ All those activities will be the sole preserve of the singing ensemble who will walk around throughout, their caressing voices shifting from one pair of ears to the next, creating an aural experience of intimacy and distance that is none too typical. Wielding the baton will be Jerusalem-based conductor Salome Rebello, while Sujay Saple is the choreographer of the piece.
Experiments in drama
Erstwhile batchmates at Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College, almost a decade back, Rebello and Saple have been planning to collaborate for years. Since emigrating to Israel in 2008, Rebello has charted an impressive course for herself in choral conducting, and is now the conductor of four choirs, including the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, the largest choral enterprise of non-professional singers in Israel. For this outing, Rebello wasn’t afforded the year-long rehearsals that an amateur choir might need before a public recital. Instead, she and Saple started from scratch and have expediently mounted this production in just over a month, a Shapeshift hallmark. Lullaby, Stranger allows her to experiment with a new kind of spectatorship. “Concert after concert in the same format for years since I was a child started to get a little tiring for me,” she says. “I wanted to work with bodies that were fluid rather than static.”
In the climatic moment of Saple’s most recent outing with co-director Rachel D’Souza, This is All There Is When There is All This, a veritable tribe of roughly two dozen actors gather upstage and collectively sing a protest song in a Slavic tongue. This transient choir provided the seed for this new project. Working with almost half the number of performers this time, Saple focuses his energies on ‘arranging the sound’ as much as the movement of the ‘singing’ bodies. “It is a concert, first and foremost,” he says. The ensemble includes actors who can sing and vice versa, like Mansi Multani, songbird of many a stage musical, or classically trained bass singer Akshay Sharma who moonlights in theatre. But, as Saple insists, “The performative space is unwelcome here, and the singers are encouraged to just be themselves, moving with the residual energy of one song to the next.”
Rebello’s musical choices for Lullaby, Stranger pivot around ideas of longing and belonging, as she attempts to match their stated concept — intimacy, love and loss — with the technical abilities of the ensemble at her disposal. Some numbers are old favourites, others sourced from her ‘extensive library of chic music’. The Beatles’ ‘Because’ provides a recurring motif. Gospel music, a cappella rhythms, pop ballads, a Kashmiri refrain even, are all part of a compelling multilingual smorgasbord. The choir ends with a coda Rebello performs herself at the piano.
Sleep and watch
‘Sleep and watch’ performances are not entirely unknown. Since 2015, Max Richter’s durational performance of more than eight hours, Sleep, in which audiences ‘sleep’ along to classical music performed by a live orchestra, has become an international sensation. Earlier this month, Bedtime Stories, a family show at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, encouraged audiences to watch the performance in their ‘sleep-things’, lying back on giant cushions. The bed is the site where one might disconnect from the detritus of modern living, and forge deeper connections with oneself and others. Attempting to tap into these impulses, Rebello and Saple have created a sensorial concert that is experiential in its own unique way.
Lullaby, Stranger will be performed at the G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Mahalaxmi; from Aug 10 – 12, two shows daily; details at bookmyshow.com