Review: Akram Khan Company in Bahok at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 11 - 14 Jun 08
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Wednesday 18 June 2008

China – a country name that can spark a thousand debates. With the Olympics looming the media has been all a frenzy reporting on human rights policies, but somewhere amongst this artist collaboration has begun to blossom.

Bahok, the heavily anticipated new work from Akram Khan brought a packed house to Sadler’s Well to see the fruition of two years labour. Three members of the National Ballet of China, plus five of Khan’s own multinational cast brought a cultural mix to the stage and a theme for the work – identity. Khan’s work has seen a growing interest in issues of identity, with Bahok (the Bengali word for carrier) becoming an outlet for this research.

The set, an Airport waiting lounge depicted by a few chairs lining the back of the stage and an overhead information board, creates the perfect setting for cultures to collide, ideas of home to be vented and strangers to unite whilst stuck in no-man’s land. Conversation is slow to start but as words become redundant in the mix of languages Khan’s movement explores a kinaesthetic communication.

Bahok becomes a people watchers dream; bodies shifted to avoid the slightly crazed Shanell Winlock intent to retell her stories, Wang Yitong continually invades the personal space of Andrej Petrovic in her effort to sleep on the unyielding airport chair and tensions rise as testosterone and electronic gadgets lead to a fight. Although many choreographers have attempted to display this naturalistic situation, Khan triumphs in combining exquisite movement with real situations and comedy.

The goddess like duet between Wang and Petrovic confirmed Khan’s ability to transfer movement styles from one body to another, with these two dancers intertwining to create a multi-limbed being. The lighting design, by Fabiana Piccioli, integral to this piece, came into its own during this duet, adding an intense intimacy to the movement.

The stories that unfold, often fragmented and blocked by multiple languages, litter the work with a heart warming narrative. As bodies sweep across the stage, often at breakneck speed, the short interludes of text allow the dancers personalities to shine through, highlighting the importance of our connection to the idea of home.

A real treat in this work is Khan’s trademark unison which unites the company in movement style and space. The complex arm swinging sequence undertaken in an silver light, connects the vocal turmoil of travel, with the visual image of the body being propelled through space.

The collaboration between the two companies, a first for the National Ballet of China, has hopefully opened the door for future artistic adventures. Khan’s demonstrated how movement styles, differences and language can be used as a positive cultural exchange. Bahok left me with a warm yet thought provoking feeling.

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