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Akram Khan


by Stuart Sweeney

May 29, 2013 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

As one of the most sought after UK dance artists worldwide, based on his extraordinary talents as dancer, choreographer and collaborator, a new work by Akram Khan is a major event. “iTMOi” (in the mind of Igor) is Khan's take on the “Rite of Spring”, commissioned by Sadler's Wells for the 100th anniversary of the mould-breaking dance work. In the programme, Khan tells us how impressed he is with Pina Bausch's version and the difficulty of escaping from her interpretation of Stravinsky's score led him to commission a score from no less than three composers.

Khan keeps the central idea of ritual sacrifice, but stamps on the work his own distinctive ideas and choreography. The opening on a smoke filled stage with trance-like, staccato movement to Ben Cross's hard-edged rock music, immediately seizes our attention in a vision that reminded me of the witches scenes in Orsen Welles's “Macbeth”. The stage slowly fills with acolytes and finally a Queen figure in a crinoline and an elaborate hat joins them. There are other distinctive figures: a high priest, a novice and a maverick acolyte who questions some of the directions and even pokes fun at his masters.

The introduction of Nitin Sawhney's music heralds an ensemble dance section in Khan's contemporary Kathak style – a major contribution to dance vocabulary – and effectively used here. Especially when the novice tries to copy her elders, dancing rather badly; she is clearly marked out and treated aggressively by the others, especially the Queen. The maverick figure tries to protect her, but is imprisoned under the crinoline for his trouble. Around this time, a horned figure on all fours appears and wanders round the stage for much of the rest of the performance. While it's significance is difficult to comprehend, that's hardly surprising with an alien ritual and his sinuous movement provides ample compensation.

When it looks as though we will move to the death of the novice, Khan upsets the apple cart with the reappearance of the Maverick on a stage covered by ropes. From all sides, the acolytes whip him with vicious waves of the ropes, counterpointing his death throes. And then the Queen and the initiate reappear and the Queen passes on her the elaborate hat – she has appointed her successor. The performance ends with a coda of a swinging golden ball and a new semi-naked couple in sinuous movement, perhaps a birth?

I was gripped by “iTMOi”'s strong visuals, varied dance and music, all sustaining a dramatic narrative. The opening and finale are stronger than the central section, but perhaps this is deliberate pacing by Khan. Christine Joy Ritter as the novice; Hannes Langolf as the maverick and Jose Aguido as the high-priest all make their marks, both with their dancing and their characterisations.  Following the huge success of his solo “Desh”, soon to be revived at Sadler's, Khan is clearly on a roll.

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