Akram Khan, Sadler's Wells, London
Thursday 29 April 2010
Akram Khan's Gnosis is built around images of blindness. And what images! It's a work that goes from the grand strength of co-star Yoshie Sunahata, swinging her arms as if beating a great drum, to Khan's astonishing evocation of death by fire, trembling and shaking like flames in the wind.
Gnosis has had a tricky journey to the stage. Planned for last autumn, it was delayed when Khan was injured. The completed work has developed in unexpected directions: it's a duet rather than a solo, while promised puppetry elements never materialised. Khan draws on the Hindu epic Mahabharata, on the story of Gandhari, who blindfolded herself to follow her blind husband. But Gnosis moves away from storytelling, dwelling instead on ideas of blindness, of vulnerability and strength.
The first half of the evening is a straightforward recital: Khan as a dancer in the Indian classical style Kathak, with jingling ankle bells, fluid movement and a superb sense of rhythm. Sunahata, a taiko drummer from the Japanese company Kodo, performs here as a musician, part of a team that includes Indian and Western classical instruments.
For the second half, Khan draws on both his Kathak and his contemporary dance training. Sunahata becomes a dancer: Gnosis opens with her taking up a staff, swinging it as if to beat a huge drum. She takes deep lunges in profile, sculptural and strong. Khan joins her, echoing her huge sweeps of movement. The music, from the same team, is stark and bold, moving away from the intricate traditional rhythms of the first half.
When Sunahata turns the drumstick, it becomes a blind person's white stick. When she prods Khan with it, he ducks in and out of her range: they're teasing each other, fast and clever. As she crosses the stage, feeling her way, he repeatedly throws himself at her feet, letting her literally walk over him. It's a moment of trust, and strange abandon.
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