Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Inter-rupted

Posted: November 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Inter-rupted

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Inter-rupted, Barbican, October 22

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company in Inter-rupted

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company in Inter-rupted (photo: NCPA)

When we look at the body in finer and finer detail, can we find what we’re protecting? If we visualise searching right down amid the very marrow for the thingness of our body, can we find it? Attachment to one’s physical form is based on the body being a reliable, continuous entity. But can we pinpoint what we’re clinging to when we probe its depths?” – Pema Chödrön.

The quote from Tibetan Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, is printed in the program for Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company’s Inter-rupted, part of this year’s Dance Umbrella. It is a text about attachment, the subject Mangaldas explores choreographically in 75 minutes of uninterrupted choreography. She and her six dancers appear and disappear, gather and disperse, disintegrate and reform, interlock and unlock, yet all these contrasts form a series of scenes without borders, one merging into the next, each with a symbolism of its own that is carried in the movement. While Mangaldas set out to counter the temporal nature of life by resisting the notion of attachment, in the course of making the work she had to face the very nature of attachment she had set out to explore. Woven into the cloth of the work is thus the solitary thread of its imperfection. Mangaldas herself embodies this dynamic contradiction as she brings us into the fragile moment, ‘like any we might strive to hold on to…even if all is transient, all is flowing, and all is Inter-rupted.’ Her dancers — Karan Gangani, Minhaz, Aamrapali Bhandari, Anjana Singh, Sunny Shishodiya and Manoj Kumar — move like a chorus that flows with and around her with virtuosic, fire-cracker footwork, vertiginous turning and a wonderfully lyrical use of gesture and voice. In addition to a recorded sound score by Sajid Akbar, the company is joined on stage by three gifted musicians — Mohit Gangani on tabla and padhant, Ashish Gangani on pakhawaj and padhant, and Faraz Ahmed on vocals — who punctuate the choreographic flow with, respectively, virtuosic rhythms and plaintive song.

In some ways Inter-rupted is familiar territory; it is a journey of ‘exploring the past (of kathak) with a modern mind’ that Akram Khan has been forging in this country for the last 16 years. Khan, however, was born in England and has been working with an international cast of performers in a country that welcomes cross-cultural fertilisation as an expression of its identity; Mangaldas and her dancers have had to challenge the established norms of kathak from within its own cultural context. As she wrote in response to a question I asked her, this process ‘does raise debates in India but that makes the entire conversation alive and relevant. There is a growing appreciation of looking at our classical traditions in contemporary contexts and a huge appreciative viewership that encourages change. So the environment is quite vibrant with debate and interesting new directions.’ Inter-rupted thus resists tradition while remaining very much within it, a very different proposition to that of Khan; Mangaldas’s work looks refreshingly like the real thing.

What makes the aesthetic of Inter-rupted familiar, perhaps, is that the production team includes some of Khan’s key figures he had introduced to Mangaldas nearly seven years ago, since when they have been working together on various productions: Farooq Chaudhry is listed as dramaturg, Fabiana Piccioli as lighting designer and Kimie Nakano designed the costumes. The confluence of Piccioli and set designer Manish Kansara — a sculptor based in Delhi — is visually stunning: an airy, three-sided space in shades of ochre that acts, depending on the lighting, as much like a large interior room as it does an undefined exterior space. The very opening shows a solitary man short of breath shaking uncontrollably in his room as he stares out at the audience, his body disintegrating until he recedes into the dark. Out of the dark we see the figure of Mangaldas slithering diagonally backwards through a shadowy, open space dragging a cloth that unwinds into a broad stream of material before she gathers it in slowly and purposefully as six figures enter the space that becomes a room once again.

Nakano’s evident understanding of, and sensibility to kathak rhythms allow her costumes to breathe and flow with the movement while maintaining an ascetic, spiritual quality in which the work is painted.

But while Mangaldas’s collaborators give Inter-rupted its aesthetic cohesion, it is the richness of the material — Pema Chödrön’s ‘thingness’ — and its interpretation that make this body-and-mind struggle to face its true nature a cause for celebration.


This review was commissioned by Pulse Asian Dance and Music and appears here with the very kind permission of its editors. 

Akram Khan Company, Kaash

Posted: April 30th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Akram Khan Company, Kaash

Akram Khan Company, Kaash, Lighthouse Poole, April 13

Akram Khan Company in the revival of Kaash (photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez)

Akram Khan Company in the revival of Kaash (photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez)

I had been invited by Libby Battaglia to give a writer’s workshop for young reviewers at Lighthouse Poole and the performance we were going to review was Akram Khan’s Kaash, his company’s first full-length work created in 2002. Presently on tour 14 years later, Kaash is an early and compelling vision of what the fusion between Khan’s classical kathak training and contemporary dance might look like. The result has the sophistication of the classical with the raw power of the contemporary that remains as thrillingly visceral as it evidently did in 2002 when it won the Critics Circle National Dance award for Best Modern Choreography. Performed by a typically international cast of five — then as now — the choreography has a universal quality unattached to any particular nationality or genre, but Kaash displays a unity of influence through the collaborations with artist Anish Kapoor and musician Nitin Sawhney. In their respective mediums both Kapoor and Sawhney had already established a synergy between their Indian roots and western culture so by the time of their collaboration with Khan his choreographic forms could be framed in an aural and visual environment that complemented and enriched them.

There is no linear narrative in Kaash but rather a series of ideas explored in movement, what the program note describes as ‘Hindu gods, black holes, Indian time cycles, tablas, creation and destruction.’ These are elements of Indian cosmology and dance familiar to Khan who was exploring the affects of his cultural identity without resorting to their traditional cultural signifiers. Images are woven into the fabric of the work, as in the form of the god Shiva glimpsed in a line of dancers, one behind the other, displaying the multiple arms of a single body, or the mudras (hand gestures) that carry their own meaning but here give shape to and refine the movements of the arms and hands. Indian time cycles or signatures are the kathak rhythmical counts that are chanted by the accompanying singer. When Khan himself was dancing in the original he would chant these time signatures himself, but here it is his voice we hear (recorded by Bernhard Schimpelsberger); it becomes part of the score rather than a live element of the dance.

Kapoor’s large black rectangle painted on the backdrop represents the black hole that in Indian cosmology was the centre of the world and the seat of Lord Vishnu, creator of the universe. A black hole is also a region of space-time with such strong gravitational effects that nothing can escape from inside it. The stage becomes a dynamic energy field, lit from smouldering to fire by Aideen Malone, inside which Khan’s choreography creates a powerful sense of gravity acting on the bodies of his dancers. One common characteristic of kathak and contemporary dance is the repudiation of vertical space; movement remains intensely horizontal and grounded. The dancers in Kaash cross from one side of the stage to the other like particles in close proximity. Even solos, especially by the (English) twins Kristina and Sadé Alleyne, have this remarkable vitality that cannot be extinguished. The figure of Sung Hoon Kim, bare-chested in a long black skirt (all costumes by Kimie Nakano), provides a soothing spiritual dimension — an exploration of Lord Shiva, agent of destruction and change. In Hindu cosmology the end of each kalpa brought about by Shiva’s dance is also the beginning of the next cycle. For some time in the opening section Kim remains still, absorbing the energy around him until he starts to move with extraordinary speed and precision, which in turn affects the other dancers; the cycle of creation and destruction continues unabated. Khan’s original role is danced by Nicola Monaco, and the fifth dancer is Sarah Cerneaux. The reconstruction of Kaash under the eye of rehearsal director Yen-Ching Lin has been guided by some of the original cast, though because the techniques of contemporary dance have changed in the last 14 years Kahn encouraged the present dancers to refresh the choreography without losing its overall form. This is perhaps why the work still seems so alive.

Sawhney’s score supports and gives life to the cyclical energy of Kaash, acting on our ears in the same way Kahn’s choreography immerses our visual and kinetic senses. Sawnhey makes use of drumming that belongs as much to the Japanese kodo as to the Indian tabla: powerful, percussive rhythms that emphasise the earthy quality of the dance pervading the first section with its repeated patterns of dynamic lunges and powerful, heavily sweeping arms. At one point the addition of John Oswald’s Spectre played by the Kronos Quartet, seeps into the score like a memory, and similarly there are whispered fragments of recorded speech that tease the notion of ‘kaash’ (Hindi for ‘if only’) into aural puzzles: “If only I’d bought one instead of two” or, more pertinently to Khan’s identity, “If I tell you the truth about who I really am.”

Kaash in 2002 was uniquely situated in the British cultural and social zeitgeist that sought links and bridges to its multicultural communities. Khan responded with a work that seemed to go far beyond that remit, turning it almost inside out. As the dramaturg, Guy Cools, has suggested, Khan’s artistic universe (along with that of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui) is largely built around ‘his identity in-between dance cultures,’ and in this early work he effectively subsumes his two identities by fusing them into a seamless whole.

English National Ballet’s She Said

Posted: April 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet’s She Said

English National Ballet, She Said, Sadler’s Wells, April 16

Grayson Perry's front cloth for She Said

Grayson Perry’s front cloth for She Said

“Dance in its purest form is without gender.” – Ohad Naharin

On message, English National Ballet has fashioned an evening of dance celebrating the female choreographer. She Said brings together Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Aszure Barton from North America and Yabin Wang from China to each create a work for the company. She Said does not set out to compare their works with the male-dominated canon (reflected in its many iconographic forms in Grayson Perry’s delightful mandala-like front cloth) but to respond to the current criticism that we don’t hear enough of the female choreographic voice in contemporary classical work. One can’t argue with that, and even if the qualities of that voice resist clear identification, the experience of watching the three works in She Said is decidedly refreshing. Along with news that English National Ballet has been granted permission by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch to perform Bausch’s Rite of Spring, it seems the initiatives of artistic director Tamara Rojo have an uncanny ability to fill unwarranted gaps in the repertoire while keeping an astute eye on public relations. The profile of the company keeps growing.

Given She Said invokes the gender question, it is perhaps worth noting not all the creative input is female. Lopez Ochoa and Barton both use scores by male composers (Peter Salem and Mason Bates respectively) and Wang seems to have been handed an entire Akram Khan creative toolkit that includes music by Jocelyn Pook, costume design by Kimie Nakano, lighting design by Fabiana Piccioli and video projection by Matt Deely. Given the role of Farooq Chaudhry — co-founder and producer of Akram Khan Company — as creative producer at ENB one can trace a male influence in the choice of Wang’s collaborative team. This might have gone unnoticed but for an overwhelming sense that Pook’s score drowns Wang’s version of the Greek tragedy of Medea, M-Dao. Wang’s approach to Medea is not so much by way of the western notion of fate as through a particularly Eastern sensibility of emotional detachment. Pook misses this subtlety, so M-Dao relies for its effectiveness on its visual construction. Erina Takahashi as Medea is an ideal interpreter for Wang and her articulate, fragile opening solo, one foot in a pale blue pointe shoe the other bare, suggests the enigma of Medea’s character. Because the gestural appearance of James Streeter as Jason and Lauretta Summerscales as his new wife Glauce lack this sense of detachment, their narrative separates naturally from Medea’s and leaves the focus on her. Wang’s understated choreography signifies the drama without getting involved in its outward emotion and she is helped in this by Nakane’s sensibility in set design and Piccioli’s lighting. Deely’s video tends to state rather too much, as if he is afraid Wang’s imagery is not enough, but it is Pook’s fleshy, middle-eastern mix of a score that simply overrides the quiet articulation of Wang’s choreography; we can barely see for hearing.

The opening work, Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings, is based on the life and love of Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo. Lopez Ochoa remembers Rojo giving her a list of female figures in history and literature from which to choose a subject, but she kept coming back to Kahlo. Spanish culture is a bond between choreographer and director/interpreter, and Kahlo provides Rojo with a role for which she has an affinity. She is most effective at the beginning as a young, spirited girl playing with the Day of the Dead skeletons; her sense of fun and self-confidence is palpable. Kahlo’s adolescent life was brutally interrupted by a tram accident that left her an invalid but Lopez Ochoa gives Rojo’s transformation a soft balletic treatment — a turned-in, shaking leg that she clutches but which can nevertheless reach 190 degrees behind her when called for — without the tormented, emotional dimension that gave rise to Kahlo’s creativity. Lopez Ochoa uses the visual symbolism of Dieuweke van Reij’s set design to suggest Kahlo’s flights of imagination as well as a corps of male dancers (a lovely inversion) dressed and brilliantly painted (by Dominic Skinner) as Kahlo’s feminine spirits. Broken Wings also provides a wonderful role for Irek Mukhamedov as the painter Diego Rivera. His passionate on-again-off-again relationship with Kahlo is the stuff of legend, and Mukhamedov fills those legendary shoes with weighty, captivating flair.

Mukhamedov is also the company’s principal ballet master, and some of the credit must go to him for the outstanding level of technique evident in the last work, Barton’s Fantastic Beings. Of all the voices this evening, Barton’s is the one I hear most clearly: someone who is confident of what she can coax from the dancers, skilled in putting it together with subtle and witty imagery (enhanced by Burke Brown’s lighting and Michelle Jank’s costumes), and assured in making the music an equal partner to the choreography. This latter aspect is perhaps the only weakness: the length of Fantastic Beings is dictated by Bates’ existing score, which draws out Barton’s wealth of invention beyond its choreographic endpoint. Nevertheless, the technical demands Barton brings out of the dancers are inspired and in turn the dancers — particularly Isaac Hernandez — respond with a precision, clarity and imagination that is thrilling to see. Fantastic beings indeed.