Akram Khan: Third Catalogue, Purcell Room, South Bank, London

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The Independent Culture

Akram Khan has two sides to his career. With his own company, he's an exceptional modern-dance choreographer, surrounded with fashionable buzz.

Akram Khan has two sides to his career. With his own company, he's an exceptional modern-dance choreographer, surrounded with fashionable buzz. His next project in that vein involves sculptor Antony Gormley and composer Nitin Sawhney. Khan's other side comes from his training in the Kathak form of classical Indian dance.

He's done both kinds of show at the South Bank, where he has been an associate artist since 2003. He chose to end his tenure with a Kathak recital - a series of solos with live music. The music and dancing are magnificent, but the concert is slightly mixed. Khan is a performer of staggering gifts, but little humility.

Third Catalogue is Khan's third Kathak recital here, and it includes highlights from the other two. There are solos by three Kathak choreographers, drawing on the same style, and the same blend of dance and storytelling. All three concern Hindu gods. Khan's sense of style and rhythm is unfailing, but doubt creeps in when he slows down for gestures of reverence. Whenever he bowed or mimed wonder, I thought: "No, I don't buy this."

The rest of the dancing is superb. In "Polaroid Feet", Khan crouches in half-light, then bursts into dance with a sweep of his arms. Then he brings that huge gesture to a delicate close. His fingers flutter into place, and he clinches the phrase with a crisp shake of the head. Khan packs brilliant variety into a single move.

That contrast of pace and scale is tied to the rhythm. He can dally with a gesture, lingering almost too long, then finish - snap - on the beat. He's in command of his music; not always abandoned to it. The long solos are thrillingly paced, but Khan's simple gestures have less weight than those dazzling dance phrases.

This recital is richly presented. Khan has a fine group of musicians, and gorgeous traditional costumes by Tony Aaron Wood. The lighting, by Aideen Malone, is often too arty. The only real drawback is a spoken interlude. Christopher Simpson, the actor, gives a strained, exaggerated performance in a speech by Hanif Kureishi, full of claims to divinity and quotes from Nijinsky's diaries. Oh dear.

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