Asian Music and Dance

Gnosis, Akram Khan

Svapnagata opened with a bang with Akram Khan’s kathak solo. Khan’s rise to international fame has been phenomenal in recent years. He is acclaimed for evolving new dance vocabulary drawing inspiration from kathak and contemporary dance and for his innovative collaborations with artists ranging from ballerina Sylvie Guillem to sculptor Anthony Gormley. The opening night, however, was devoted exclusively to classical kathak.

The recital began with musicians placed aesthetically on the stage.  An entry by Khan with perfect grace completed the picture and slowly the painting so to speak comes alive. Moving round the stage, with soft lighting, to the sounds of Taiko drums, the relationship between the dancer and the musician looked almost mystical. It led on to the first item Polaroid Feet. Choreographed by Gauri Sharma Tripathi with text by the legendary Pandit Lachu Maharaj, the dance celebrates the balance of powerful energy and gentle beauty as embodied by the Hindu deities Lord Shiva and his consort goddess Parvati in the image of Ardh Nareshwar. Akram Khan captured the high energy of Shiva’s dance and contrasted it effectively with the gentle lyricism associated with Parvati.

This was followed by kathak nritta (pure dance) repertoire with live music. With neat angles and sharp chakkars (turns), Khan covered the large stage with ease. The item suitably finished with a joyous tarana, choreographed by Khan’s kathak guru Shree Pratap Pawar to music by Gaurav Majumdar.

In terms of the kathak technique Khan is one of the many virtuoso kathak dancers here in the UK and India but it is his imagination, his charisma, his adventurous spirit that is ready to take chances, which widens his appeal. His movement vocabulary has evolved organically as a result of many influences in his life. In the kathak solo, once again he brought in some new movements, e.g. the spring-like movement with one arm above his head was especially noticeable.

It was at this stage that Akram Khan announced the injury to his shoulder and the consequent postponement of Gnosis, which the audience was aware of through the programme notes. Instead, an improvised session of music and dance was presented. Khan has to be congratulated for thinking ‘out of the box’. Although it was in the spirit of kathak, the jamming session had a character of its own. His choice of musicians also brought new elements into the show. The inclusion of Taiko drums by Yoshi Sunahata and cello by Lucy Railton was a refreshing addition to the traditional accompanists – Sanju Sahai on tabla and Manjunath  Chandramouli on mridangam with their usual brilliance, Soumik Datta on sarod and Faheem Mazhar who sang the beautiful traditional thumri ‘nainan moré taras gayé hain’ in his soul-stirring voice.

As the finalé of the evening, Akram Khan gave a glimpse of Gnosis in spite of the injury and the physical pain it must have caused him. Even in that short extract the power and the emotions of the piece were palpable. Gnosis returns to Sadler’s Wells in April 2010. 



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