Vertical Road, the latest work by Akram Khan, celebrates 10 years of his own company.
It reflects many of Khan's strongest qualities. Dancers are sculpturally placed, on a stage that looks gorgeous, with powerful design and music. The dancing ranges from silky delicacy to ecstatic wrestlings. Vertical Road also feels too long, dawdling as it moves from one sequence to the next.
Khan is known for his collaborative work but for Vertical Road, he returns to composer Nitin Sawhney. The work starts with strong hums and driving beats, before breaking into more lyrical, meditative sounds.
Vertical Road is inspired by Sufi ideas of grace. It opens with a dim figure, just visible behind a translucent backdrop. When his hand brushes the surface, you can see it clearly; the rest of his body is a blurred image. Throughout, Khan uses images of transcendence. His dancers spin like whirling Sufi dervishes.
The dancers stand in a group, heads bowed. Kimie Nakano's costumes – pale, draped tunics and trousers – are saturated with white dust. As the dancers move, shaking their limbs or striking their own bodies, clouds of dust fly up, very visible in the stark lighting. They dance in unison, driven about by the beat, then slide into solo movements.
Salah El Brogy, a tall dancer with a shock of dark curls, knocks over a line of blocks, like mystic dominoes, or picks one up to contemplate it. Khan's choreography with blocks tends to slow the work down. We can see that the dancers are thinking deep thoughts, but they don't exactly communicate them.
El Brogy is more interesting as an angel figure, someone who affects the other dancers without touching them. In one duet, another dancer follows every gesture of his hands. The directed movements get more precise as the "angel" comes closer. Finally, he is outlining the other man's body, guiding each tiny movement – still never touching.
Vertical Road lingers over some of its images. It's clear that Khan will end by returning to the figure behind the veil, long before he actually gets there. A final sequence has dancers mirroring each other, one behind the screen, one visible. It's beautifully lit, clearly staged – but the delay makes it less satisfying.
Touring to 4 December (www.akramkhancompany.net)