Review: Akram Khan's Big Dance 2016 - Trafalgar Square

Performance: 2 July 2016
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Wednesday 6 July 2016

Big Dance Trafalgar Square 2016, London. Photo: Bettina Strenske

On a day that saw many people in London mobilised – the EU referendum protest march and the British Summer Time Music Festival in Hyde Park – central London was a busy place and 1,000 dancers performing in Trafalgar Square to mark the opening of Big Dance Week added to the dynamic throngs.

Akram Khan’s Big Dance Opener was a celebration of ‘bringing people together’ and at a time when the UK is divided and in political chaos, when uncertainty and anxiety reigns, there was something reassuring about Khan’s spiritual, reflective yet outward looking choreography.

His mass dance which has been learned over the last few months by dance groups and individuals between the ages of 14 and 86 uses the power of unison to resonate through themes of undulating movements: swaying, rocking, and swinging.

The dancers assemble round the periphery of Trafalgar Square but walk slowly in lines to create a phalanx of bodies in the Square’s centre facing the steps and the National Gallery. Like migrating people arriving at their destination, they have a sense of purpose and look professional and striking in black.

Those at the front kneel, glancing up to the skies then downwards to the ground as if they are praying. Like a cult or a religious sect they reach out with fluid arms in all-embracing open gestures emitting strong exhalations of breath like a chant. It’s satisfying to witness orchestrated movement on such a large scale.

Nitin Sawhney’s oceanic score floods gradually into the air and the dancers turn to face all four directions – performing their ritualistic dance to the north, south, east and west. There are also moments of introversion, when the participants seem to fold in on themselves, but then unfurl to connect with each other and the world beyond.

Although the city sounds at times overpower the music and visibility is obscured by the sheer number of audience bodies, I can still feel the force of the participants as they embrace Khan’s inclusive, multiple-identity affirming material with commitment and passion. A cohesive yet individual group they certainly are.

Big Dance 2016 continues until 10 September 2016
Big Dance 2016 full programme

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

Photos: Bettina Strenske

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