Review: Akram Khan Company - Kaash - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 3 - 5 March 2016
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 8 March 2016

Akram Khan Company - 'Kaash'. Photo:  Louis Fernandez

Performance reviewed: 3 March

I sense that Kaash is on its second iteration as a game-changer for Akram Khan. The original work was his first major choreography, which premiered back in 2002 to great acclaim; winning for its creator, the second of six National Dance Awards, so far. It would be surprising if there were not to be more. Back then, Kaash was an artistic manifesto signposting Khan’s future direction in terms of creating collaborative works built upon a hybrid of dance influences and styles.

Khan has now set in motion the countdown to his retirement as a dancer and another evolution is that he is no longer present in the cast of_ Kaash_. The choreography he created is now interpreted by new dancers and it seems clear that they have been able to stamp their own personal imprint on Khan’s Masterplan.

The major difference between old and new Kaash is not just different dancers, but one less of them. The original cast of six is now replaced by three women and two men. Perhaps the absentee is meant to signify the missing presence of Khan himself? The new configuration created a lop-sided symmetry in some of the sections of movement; a device that seemed somehow in keeping with the upgrade.

The apparent freedom of the dance is the great joy of Kaash and it is so fluidly expressed by these excellent dancers. This sense of free-flowing movement is emphasised by there being barely any contact between the five performers. The twin sisters, Kristina and Sadè Alleyne – if not identical, then certainly appearing so from a distance – bring both a fascinating aesthetic and an ebullient, athletic attack to add extra edge to the show’s frisson. Sung Hoon Kim was captivating in a scintillating, pulsating solo.

Kaash (Hindi for “if only”) is routinely described as Khan’s first full-length production, although I find that to be an unspecific description akin to the length of a piece of string. 55 minutes is a short evening at the theatre; less than an hour would never be enough for a ballet audience but it seems to satisfy enthusiasts for contemporary dance. It’s an interesting contrast and personally I would prefer to see a performance of such comparative brevity followed by an interval and another work.

And this leads to the further observation that Kaash is outstanding dance for those who are capable of meeting the intellectual challenge of its artistic enquiry. Shaped by a diverse mix of ideas associated with Hindu mythology and theoretical physics, this production of pure movement is not easily accessible. It translates into fragmented episodes of elemental dance, which appear to lack a holistic structure.

The major artistic contributions remain as they were in 2002 with Khan’s direction and choreography situated in front of a backdrop designed by the sculptor, Anish Kapoor – and set to music largely composed by Nitin Sawhney. Kimie Nakano has designed simple, flowing costumes of long, black skirts over black trousers for the topless men with the trio of women in black sleeveless dresses over similar trousers. The work is impressively lit by Aideen Malone.

Kaash plays with a sense of theatre. It opens with the long uncertainty of whether the performance has actually begun, with a male dancer (Kim) standing motionless for several minutes as the audience settled down. A lingering hush descended over the auditorium while the house lights remained up before the gradually intensifying babble of chatter began to reassert itself. Eventually the other dancers appear in a line, repeating a sweep of arm exercises while Kim remained motionless. One felt that Khan toys with audience expectations and this concept continued with the abrupt stop-start mix of loud music and silence, interweaved with layers of contrasted movement patterns.

Kapoor’s backdrop is brilliantly effective in its simplicity. A large black rectangle appeared variously as if a black hole, the blank screen of the Starship Enterprise, a raised button or a wall-mounted TV; with surrounding blurry colours changing hue as the work progressed. The soundscape – which occasionally features Khan’s voice, albeit indistinctly – was sometimes uncomfortably loud. At one point, it seemed as if we had been transported to a runway while an airliner took off above us. The seats seemed to shake.

Khan has – in the past – tended to create work, tour it and then move on. Bringing Kaash back, originally in 2014, albeit not in quite the same detail of its original form, seems to signify that his Company is now contemplating a more permanent repertoire base. It holds out the tempting prospect of other gems from the Khan back catalogue returning for future encores. And it sets the scene for life after Khan, the dancer.

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for, and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is chairman of the dance section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards. Twitter: @gwdancewriter

Photos: Louis Fernandez

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