Aakash Odedra, Echoes and I Imagine

Posted: March 25th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Aakash Odedra, Echoes and I Imagine

Aakash Odedra, Echoes and I Imagine, Lilian Baylis Studio, March 9

Aakash Odedra in Echoes (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou)

This review was commissioned by Pulse and appears here with the kind permission of its editor.

The setting of a theatre is not the most conducive to a meditative state; its dimensions are more utilitarian than spiritual and one’s focus on the stage is shared with (in the case of the Lilian Baylis Studio) about 180 other people. In Inter-rupted for Dance Umbrella last year, choreographer Aditi Mangaldas and her designers successfully challenged these limitations with a dynamic use of colour and space. In Echoes, her first Kathak solo for Aakash Odedra, Mangaldas uses the auditory quality of strings of traditional ghungroo bells to usher in a sense of calm. In the program note she quotes J. Krishnamurti: ‘If you listen to the sound of those bells with complete silence you would be riding on it, or rather, the sound would carry you across the valley and over the hill…’ The theatre setting militates against this but Krishnamurti’s aerial metaphor finds a visual counterpart in the strings of bells suspended above the stage, and they also spread like tentacles along the floor like an unrolled skein of wool. The bells become the playing field for Odedra whose dancing imbues them with life. We first see him wafting a tassel of bells around his torso, though Fabiana Piccioli’s engulfing cone of light at this moment is too sharp, too design for Odedra’s languour. While the sound and imagery of the bells recur throughout Echoes, it is Odedra’s presence and his ability to sinuously, noiselessly insinuate his shape into the space around and above him that invites us to contemplate. The silent dynamics of his movement have no edges, like sound itself; they flow and swirl and rise (his joyful elevation is rare in Kathak) in a series of choreographic variations. Mangaldas has fully understood Odedra’s gifts and through them achieves a sense of awe through a oneness of the dancer and the danced.

The contrast with Odedra’s own choreography, I imagine, reveals an artist who is as expressive in a spiritual role as he is as a common man (or woman). On a stage marked out in white tape like an architectural plan and piled with suitcases of all shapes and sizes, he embodies the spirits of his antecedents, inhabiting the symbols of travel (quite literally at first) while questioning the ideas of migration and home. He scrabbles around the suitcases, retrieving old portraits (in the form of masks created by David Poznanter) and honouring their memory by imagining their peripatetic tribulations, their aspirations and dreams. He is so present in their lives that they live through him, voices and all. It takes a while to square this performance with the previous one, because Odedra has moved far from his Kathak roots into experimental theatre; he is an actor in his own drama and indulges his ability to evoke his past and present through theatrical means. Choreography enters slowly, but when he performs what appears to be a ritual dance at a suitcase altar, his flowing hands and arms describe everything words cannot. As in Echoes, his dancing comes from an intimate space inside the body, a place of emotions from which he extrudes meaning through his eloquent limbs. Odedra choreographed I imagine to the voice of spoken word artist, Sabrina Mahfouz. She, too, talks eloquently and powerfully about home and migration, her words complementing Odedra’s staged conception. Except that Odedra, in some alchemy of performance, has managed to say it all himself.


Aakash Odedra: Rising

Posted: October 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Aakash Odedra: Rising

Aakash Odedra, Rising, Pavilion Dance, October 18

Before Aakash Odedra performs the three contemporary works on the program, he demonstrates his dance roots in Kathak. Nritta, meaning pure dance, is a variation he created for himself and for which he arranged the classical Indian music. In my previous post, I mentioned that dance is expressed in the intellectual, the physical and the emotional bodies. Here in Nritta, Odedra manifests them all in perfect harmony within the complex rhythm of the music. As he writes in the program notes, ‘Here the movements of the body do not convey any mood or meaning and its purpose is just creating beauty by making various patterns and lines in space and time.’ It is pure dance.

Just perceptible in the smoky apse of light is a figure with his back to us, dressed in loose, grey cotton kurta and pants, his body still but for his arms and hands rising slowly, palms and gaze turned upwards as if offering a libation to the gods. The dance develops with dizzying, virtuosic turns – there is something of a Dervish in Odedra – and his lightning movements of the torso and arms make those statues of Shiva with multiple limbs make sense. How else can you capture this kind of movement in a statue? I had always thought of Kathak as grounded, with upward movement expressed in the body as an opposition to the energy directed into the floor, but the name Aakash means sky, and upward for Odedra means airborne: it is part of his personality, a trait his teacher in India recognized and encouraged. He has a slight frame, taut and elongated, so there seems to be no apparent force in his dance; what comes across is his love and thrill of movement and his freedom to jump and turn effortlessly around a still point. It is the physical expression of being in the moment.

Odedra does not come to contemporary dance through training in contemporary dance. He comes to contemporary dance through his training in Kathak. This makes his collaborations with Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Sid Larbi Cherkaoui a unique occasion. Khan has already developed a remarkable body of work from the same dance roots, so creating a solo on Odedra is a fast track process to a place way beyond the beginning. In the Shadow of Man is indeed a work that challenges Odedra in ways he may never have imagined, but his sensibility and integrity, not to mention his innate virtuosity, rise to the challenge. In the program notes, Khan muses on their shared Kathak tradition: ‘I have always felt a strong connection to the ‘animal’ embedded within the Indian dance tradition. Kathak masters have so often used animals as forms of inspiration, even to the point of creating a whole repertoire based on the qualities, movements, and rhythms of certain animals. So, in this journey with Aakash, I was fascinated to discover if there was an animal residing deep within the shadow of his own body.’ I don’t think there is any doubt that he found it, and the way Odedra reveals it is remarkable.

The opening image is difficult to make out, a shell or shield of an insect that is alive in that expressionless way insects busy themselves with the act of living: a movement of the eye, a leg, an antenna. But as the lighting of Michael Hulls gradually reveals this shield, we see it is Odedra’s crouched, naked back, and the insect eyes are his scapula rippling under his skin and the antennae his elbows. Jocelyn Pook’s score is suddenly riven by a piercing shriek from Odedra taken on the inbreath, scorching the lungs. He comes alive, unfolding like a wild man and stretching out his angular arms and legs like an emaciated saint stretching. The lighting picks out these body shapes, following the tearing movements of this hunter-gatherer, mouth gaping and blind eyes engaged. As in Nritta, we see the velocity of the turns, the arms whipped into the form of a double helix, and then the stillness. The insect develops into a loping monkey, to which the hissing and shrieks now belong, as do the whirling arms at the limits of Odedra’s circling torso, and the arching backbends that put his wild eyes upside down staring at us: traits of the atavistic figure consumed by the animal Khan has embedded – or revealed – in him. Pook’s score adds a sense of calm and order, rounding off the corners without disturbing the angular, feral nature of the beast. What gives this performance an otherworldly quality is the lack of any ego; Odedra has given himself over to the dance, and his bow at the end is one of genuine humility.

In Russell Maliphant’s Cut, Maliphant doesn’t so much create movement for Odedra as structure it. We see Odedra’s undulating, double-helix arms, his ability to rise from the ground as if pulled up by an invisible thread, his lightning dynamics, his ability to spin and his generosity of spirit. What distinguishes Cut – and gives it its name – is that Maliphant has Odedra dance with the light patterns of Michael Hulls which cut his body into zones of light. Hulls is a visual magician, creating a virtual scrim of light and smoke through which Maliphant thrusts and weaves Odedra’s movements, first his hands and arms and later his full, whirling body. The lighting also supports Odedra’s gestures, as when he pushes down magisterially on two columns of black light that are the vertical shadows underneath his own hands. A third element is Andy Cowton’s score, which is as intimately related to the choreography as the lighting. When Hulls’ triangle of light takes on three dimensions, opening up a vista of latticed blinds on the floor, there is a suggestion in the music of the blinds opening and closing as Maliphant contrasts Odedra’s crawling motif with the horizontal bars of light. Hulls rolls up the blinds leaving Odedra in silhouette in open space, and then raises the lighting level so only his skin is visible as his clothing blends into the smoky light. The final sequence is pure Odedra, whirling fiercely downstage across the blinds and arriving at a stillness in which he grasps the shadows of his hands and pushes them down once again, keeping his dark gaze on us, as he turns up his palms and closes his fingers slowly into a fist.

The order of the program is decided more by the technical aspects of the lighting than by a considered approach to the choreographic content: a little bit too much of the lighting tail wagging the choreographic dog. The last work, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Constellation, is the most mystical of the three, and belongs more in the middle than at the end, except for its lighting demands. It is also the work in which there is less of Odedra’s own movement vocabulary and more of Cherkaoui’s conceptual framework: a constellation made up of patterns of sound and light with Odedra as the locus, an ‘astral body generating its own rhythms and luminosity.’ The rhythms are provided by the lovely score of Olga Wojciechowska, and the luminosity by Willy Cessa’s suspended light bulbs of differing intensities that provide the only illumination for Odedra’s motion. He is more a presence in Constellation than a performer of Cherkaoui’s movement phrases. At one point Odedra swings a single bulb in front of his head that illuminates the alternate sides of his face as it rotates, like two phases of the moon. Constellation is a meditation on space and spirituality, and Odedra provides a performance of mystical serenity. Towards the end he sits in meditation and instead of Cessa’s lights fading to black at the final moment, they all increase to full illumination. How appropriate.