Asian Music and Dance


It’s fascinating to observe even a bit of the grooming of a potential star. Trained in kathak as well as various other dance forms, Aakash Odedra is a talented and lucky young man to have acquired the support of so many people and organisations. Aptly entitled Rising, this programme of four shortish solos – a challenge even for an established artist – can’t be faulted for ambition. The roster of stellar choreographers who agreed to make work for Odedra is in itself enough to guarantee instant interest. Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui certainly keep him on his toes in a bill which, despite the impressive variety, possibly adds up to a tad less than the sum of its parts. 

The evening commenced with Mohe Apne Hi Rang Mein, a decent slice of Sufi-drenched kathak created by Odedra for himself. That includes the musical arrangement, with a vocal (played at a blaring volume at the premiere) by Sami-Allah Khan based on a poem by Amir Khusro. Slightly swarthy and thin as a sapling in a long, flaring white robe over dark trousers, Odedra demonstrated that he’s a swift spinner with a nice line in humble spiritual ecstasy. 

From there he plunged down to earth as a feral figure in Khan’s In the Shadow of Man. The goal here, as Khan explains in a programme note, was to discover the animal lurking inside the dancer’s almost pathetically slender but wiry frame. It begins with the shirtless wild-boy crouching upstage, an amber light trained on his bare back. He emits a dry, throaty scream before proceeding to work his shoulder blades like de-feathered wings. Convulsive yips ensued as Odedra, a ravenously unsettled creature, subsequently scuttled low through Michael Hulls’ shadowy lighting design. Set to music (by Jocelyn Pook) that married strings and voice to a throbbing tone, the piece ended – somewhat frustratingly, as it felt unfinished – with Odedra upright and gyrating in place. 

Maliphant’s CUT seemed a more complete if, perhaps, rigidly contained dance. Collaborating, per usual, with the masterly Hulls, the choreographer initially places Odedra behind a single thin, smoky (there’s a lot of dry ice in this show) beam of light. At times the dancer played with the shadows cast by his hands as if they were vaguely fiendish puppet strings. Soon there was a row of three beams downstage, in and out of which Odedra swiftly manoeuvred on his knees, and then, in a dimensional switch, a row of pulsating bars that stretched corridor-like upstage. All of this was cued to industrial electronic rhythms (by Andy Cowton) that, like the movement, built to a crescendo before subsiding into a contemplative fade-out. 

Cherkaoui’s Constellation is a wordless cosmic fable meant to cast Odedra as ‘an astral body generating its own rhythms and luminosity’. Varying in intensity, fifteen yellowish light bulbs (a design by Willy Cessa) swung like galactic lemons on their cables in the dark, smoky void of the stage. Odedra rapidly spun one in front of him – a striking distortion effect – only after it had sucked all the others of their energy. Eventually, to Olga Wojceichowska’s plaintive music, he sat cross-legged and centre stage with it and made prayerful gestures that re-ignited all the other lights. 

Production values throughout Rising are high but threaten to overshadow Odedra’s presence and skills. I’d like to think I’m of the mark, but to me it carried just a whiff of young emperor’s new clothes about it. Take away all the flash effects and you might well ask, Who is this guy and what can he do? Treated – with undeniable invention – like a tabula rasa by a trio of heavy-hitting dance-makers, it’s as if he’s being prematurely shaped into some kind of icon. In such a context his post-show remark about being ‘10% of this evening’ seems unwittingly revealing. 



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