Review: Aakash Odedra Company - Murmur 2.0 - The Place

Performance: 20 & 21 November 2015
Reviewed by Sarah Kent - Tuesday 24 November 2015

Aakash Odedra in 'Murmur'. Photo: Sean Goldthorp

Performance reviewed: 20 November

Following its debut last year, Murmur received mixed reviews; since then, though, Aakesh Odedra and Australian choreographer Lewis Major have continued to develop the piece into a full length work and Murmur 2.0 is far stronger and more coherent than its predecessor.

A circle of electric fans defines the arena in which Odedra spends the next hour or so exploring the effects that dyslexia has had on his ability to get to grips with the written word and, consequently, on his sense of self. Sitting with his back to us, he chants mesmerically as he claps out a rhythm on his thigh; at first the sounds are gentle, but they quickly escalate into an agitated frenzy of yelling and pounding. “How long does it take to correct a mistake?” he demands. The answer, it seems, is 21 years.

His anguish is expressed physically through movements that look both awkward and painful, such as walking on bent toes and spinning with legs crossed in the lotus position. Only later do we discover the cause of his very palpable agitation. It was not until the age of 21 that he discovered his first name was spelt with two “A”s rather than one. Throughout his childhood, he had not only misspelt his name but, in so doing, had been under a misapprehension about his identity. “I’d flicked through my passport a million times, but never noticed that other “A”,” he explains while moving around the circle with amazing athleticism. “Did my mother correct me? No… When I found that “A”, I found a sense of control.”

That hard won sense of control seems extremely fragile, though, and Murmur 2.0 evokes with visceral force and great beauty the panic induced by fear of its loss, as well as the trauma of being unable to read and write fluently like other children. Five white drapes are carefully aligned to act as a screen for a series of projections designed by the Austrian collective, Ars Electronica Futurelab that conjure the anxiety and confusion induced by dyslexia.

A million small birds, cut from paper, swirl rapidly about the space like a flock of unruly letters flying off a page. The bird theme recurs throughout the evening. Silhouetted like a shadow puppet against the drapes, Odedra flutters his hands with beautifully fluid, wing-like undulations. Then he mimes unscrewing the lid of a huge jar and unleashes a swirling cloud of dark blue vapour that quickly engulfs him. As he darts about unseen behind the drapes, his silhouette is picked out in white-hot light that flares up, transforming him into a flaming monster that lurches about to a spooky, electronic soundtrack.

When the drapes finally fall, Odedra arranges them on the floor in the shape of two “A”s; after 21 years of inner turmoil, at last the second “A” has been discovered and a degree of clarity has been achieved. And for the first time, we are able to see clearly and appreciate the precision and fluency of Odedra’s dancing; he stamps rhythmically, spins and gestures with breathtaking articulacy in movements nurtured in the Indian traditions of Kathak and Bharat Natyam and enhanced by working with his mentor, Akram Khan and other contemporary choreographers.

Along with his incredibly light and liquid movements, Odedra has a superb sense of comic timing. His slight build and air of vulnerability remind me of Charlie Chaplin, the little man who battles against superhuman odds; in this case, trouble manifests itself in the form of sheets of paper that flutter down from the heavens to cover the stage in a sea of trouble. As Odedra tries to regain control, the scene that ensues is pure slapstick. He scurries about picking up armloads of paper before enlisting the help of a cardboard box to catch the falling sheets and two brooms to sweep up some more. They continue to fall thick and fast, so he stuffs them down his trousers, up his jumper and into his mouth and pockets. But in the maelstrom, the precious “A” lodged in his pocket for safekeeping gets lost and finally, defeated, he gives up. Engulfed in a swirl of paper blown into a frenzy by the surrounding fans, he spins round and round with whirling dervish intensity at the centre of the storm – like a snowman trapped in a blizzard, inside a snow dome.

Murmur 2.0 is a compelling evocation of mental turmoil; yet Aakesh (with two “A“s) Odedra is such a fine dancer that he makes the clever ideas and visual fireworks seem superfluous. I’d happily watch him all evening just dance.

www.aakashodedra.co.uk


Best known as an art critic, Sarah Kent began writing about dance for The Arts Desk in 2012, only stopping recently when she was invited to serve on the dance panel of the Olivier Awards. A keen dancer herself, she brings a fresh perspective to the role of commentator.

Photo: Sean Goldthorp

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