Review: Agudo Dance Company - Silk Road - Lilian Baylis Studio

Performance: 04 - 05 May 2017
Reviewed by Tejas D. Rawal - Friday 5 May 2017

Performance reviewed on the 04 of May 2017

‘The Silk Road was not one road but many’*

As Jose Agudo’s Silk Road chosen historical title suggests, the piece initiates an exploration of a cultural exchange rooted in the mystique of antiquity; an exchange of not only goods but ways of living. Yet be not mistaken, Agudo’s exploration is firmly in the present day as his immense physical exertion on a bare stage, illuminated in wispy corridors of light, holds his audience in awe.

All four bodies on stage, Agudo, the acclaimed Mavin Khoo, percussionist Bernhard Schimpelsberger and accompanying Flamenco guitarist, Giuliano Modarelli, explore the challenges of our times through exquisite and intimate choreography and composition drawing from the length and breadth of the globe.

As Agudo’s hands intermittently wrangle between the exacting rhythmic palmas of Flamenco and the precise hasta mudras of Kathak, the audience are presented with the shared rigour and finesse of both forms. Yet Agudo endeavours to push beyond a simplistic vision of a world in which we must always celebrate similarity, Silk Road boldly also explores the differences that allow for a complex exploration of global choreography.

The juxtaposed and often opposing aesthetics of Flamenco and Kathak are not awkward viewing but rather are moving. While the sharp gólpes de pies of his flamenco boot heels open the show – rhythmically inducing a sense of progression along a journey spanning the length of Eurasia – it is in the subsequent cacophony of metallic ghungroos, adorning the same stamping feet, that the audience are truly moved by the wholehearted frenzy with which Agudo embraces the distinct South Asian form.

While Agudo boldly chooses to spend much of the Kathak section of the piece meditatively fixing the ghungroos to his ankles, the true virtuosity of both musicians, Schimpelsberger and Modarelli and their cultural exchanges is left to be savoured by the audience, undistracted and what an overwhelming joy it was.

Schimpelsberger’s obvious tutelage under one of India’s legendary tabla masters, Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, is most evident in his mastery of the rhythmic vocal bols and taals that structure Indian classical music. Yet surprisingly, this was not accompanied by the expected tabla but rather through the cajón and The Hang, an innovative percussive instrument developed in our century, a reminder that this is as much a present exchange as a historical one. Modarelli’s accompanying Indian ragas on the flamenco guitar create for a disconcerting melancholy in which the listener is able to grasp only limited glimmers of its origin, yet this is the point; both the composition and the choreography remind us that our cultural lines have always been blurred and are ultimately not entirely discernible.

While both Agudo’s Flamenco and Kathak solos in the first half presented the audience with his astounding virtuosity, it is in the second part of the show, Agudo’s duet with Khoo, titled Full Circle that Silk Road truly finds it feet. In the heartrending explorations of pain and trauma between the bodies of the two performers, the audience are treated to a carefully considered blend of wild fast paced choreography and delicate near-meditative moments.

In these instances, a clear display of the lineage between Agudo and the renowned Akram Khan and his use of Kathak in creating a fresh, yet poignant, contemporary gestural language is clear. It is in this unique language that we see the performers attempt to make sense of our strange, confusing and multifaceted world.

Agudo Dance Company’s Silk Road is a must-watch for anyone seeking a nuanced and considered artistic response to the global politics of our age, in a world where the questions globalisation and intercultural dialogue are more relevant than ever.

*Foltz, Richard. (1999). Religions of the Silk Road. Macmillan: London.

Tejas Rawal is a Theatre Studies student currently based at Brunel University London with particular interests in intercultural performance and postmodern theory. You can find him on Twitter @TejRawal

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