Review: Aakash Odedra's Rising at The Place

Performance: 24 & 25 February 2012
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Monday 27 February 2012

Reviewed 25 Feb

The title of Kathak dancer Aakash Odedra’s current showcase may well refer to his own status within the dance community – the young performer’s star has been quietly in the ascendant within the contemporary South Asian dance scene for the past couple of years, with the result that Odedra now finds himself working with a trio of top choreographers for this solo mixed bill. The programme is a step forward for Odedra as a performer, who here embraces identifiably contemporary modes of performance inflected through his Kathak training, if not a great leap forward for South Asian dance.

Akram Khan is the first of the big names on the programme, with the intense and often uncomfortable In The Shadow Of Man . Opening in near-darkness with Michael Hulls’ careful lighting design picking out Odedra’s super-slim frame and extreme shoulder dislocations, the piece shows the dancer in bestial mode. Prowling on the floor and spasming animalistically, his body is isolated in space and shown in all its raw physicality with no suggestion of narrative or character. It’s a bold piece for Odedra, starkly different from the erect grace of Kathak and showcasing his flexibility and control; I enjoyed the way Khan pushed the severe mood right through to the end of the piece without respite, even if this sometimes made for uneasy viewing.

Following his recent adventures in fine art, Russell Maliphant’s Cut finds the choreographer back in gestural pure-dance mode. Lit by a hazy sheet of light, created by regular Maliphant collaborator Michael Hulls, Odedra thrusts his arms in and out of the audience’s view; now we see a raised palm seeming to beckon us into the light, now it’s gone. The box of light that subtly strobes a whirl of limbs and Andy Cowton’s electronic score all call to mind Maliphant’s celebrated Two ; this version comes with added chakkars and wrist flicks straight out of the performer’s own vocabulary melded with moments of Tai Chi. It’s an effective combination and enjoyable to watch.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Constellation probably takes Odedra furthest from his usual movement idiom, although the soft rolling falls and hypermobile backbends are well within the choreographer’s standard vocabulary. Performed within a beautiful hanging set of oversized lightbulbs that swing around the dancer as he swirls and tumbles about the stage, Constellation is visually arresting and its silky releases easy on the eye. Gradually the bulbs calm into stasis and Odedra selects one, drawing energy from the others to make his chosen bulb burn brighter. There’s something a little haunting and melancholic about this final image, as though Odedra has drawn life itself from the other lamps, leaving them coldly dark while his own blazes. Not labouring the point, however, Cherkaoui is happy to leave his piece lightly suggestive.

Rising is introduced by a short classical Kathak solo choreographed by Odedra himself, which serves largely to illustrate how unlike Kathak the rest of the programme is. Other than usefully benchmarking Odedra’s personal challenge in working with new styles, however, Nritta sits ill at ease within the programme and appears to come from an altogether more traditional showcase. It also, strangely, seems to suit Odedra’s body less well than the other pieces in the programme, showing up technical deficiencies in the footwork (although his ease and control in the upper body are exemplary). A trio of the three guest works without the classical filler would make for a more coherent programme, and allow the contemporary works to speak for themselves. I look forward to Odedra pushing yet further at the boundaries of his craft on his next outing.
Lise Smith

What’s On