Akram Khan’s new iTMOi (in the mind of Igor) starts with a roar, a bellowing shout that makes the audience jump. The confrontation goes with the theme. iTMOi marks the centenary of The Rite of Spring, the iconoclastic ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, which sparked a riot at its first performance.
This year, Rite revivals and new productions are everywhere, but Khan avoids all but a glimpse of Stravinsky’s terrifying score. Instead, he and his team – which includes composers Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost – focus on ideas of sacrifice, on what could prompt a ballet about a chosen woman dancing herself to death. Khan, who danced in Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony, does not appear in iTMOi. It’s an ensemble work, ambitious but uneven, with slow patches and some driving imagery.
The roaring comes from dancer TJ Lowe, who growls his way through the story of Abraham and Isaac. The exaggerated, shouty delivery smudges the words; it’s more effective when we hear a soundtrack of voices chanting in insistent rhythms. Bells chime, and smoke rises from the ground. Khan’s dancers, an international cast with varied training, stamp through fast, urgent steps, limbs pistoning with fierce speed.
Catherine Schaub Abkarian, in a big hoop skirt and pale makeup, looms over the other dancers. At one point she “chooses” Ching-Ying Chien, a small, delicate woman, throwing handfuls of white dust into her dark hair. Denis 'Kooné' Kuhnert puts on his own hoop skirt and rolls around the floor, bowling around as if unable to stay upright. Lowe moves with bold attack and silky flexibility, curving and slinking about the stage.
The solo figures look symbolic, but they can lack the impact of the compulsive group dances. One dancer prowls about in a loincloth and horned headdress. Perhaps he’s the ram sacrificed instead of the child in the Abraham and Isaac story, but only the dancer’s stern commitment keeps him from looking silly. iTMOi doesn’t have the tight pacing and focus of Khan’s own solo show DESH, which returns to Sadler’s Wells this summer. It’s a more meandering work.
The music, played live at these centenary performances, layers thoughtful string playing and patterned electronic crackles. Matt Deely’s set design is simple but atmospheric, a series of gauzes and drops with a plain frame for smoke and a metallic pendulum hanging overhead. Fabiana Piccioli’s lighting casts a rich glow over everything.
iTMOi’s London press night marks 100 years to the day since the first Rite performance. It’s not another riot, but remains atmospheric and strongly danced.
Until 1 June. Box office 0844 412 4300.