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Akram Khan Company

"Kaash"

by Jenai Cutcher

October 14, 2003 -- Joyce Theatre, New York, NY

“Kaash” begins with the enormous potential of space. The density of the large, black rectangle serving as backdrop, the utter stillness of the man facing it, and the silence that ensues once the audience notices him make that space (and the possibilities for filling it) even more palpable than would a completely bare stage.

Akram Khan is now known the dance world over for his work in blending kathak and modern dance to create a unique movement vocabulary. Trained in the classical Indian dance form singe age seven and introduced to modern dance and composition at university, the London native blurs the lines of these influences in his choreography, producing refreshing shades of movement within the concert dance realm. Such is still the flavor of the Akram Khan Dance Company, but it is the choreographer’s command of contrast that resonates in “Kaash,” his first full-length piece.

As Inn-Pang Ooi stands in front of Anish Kapoor’s rectangular void, a woman walks to him, whispers, and the lights go out. Back up a moment later, we see Ooi still standing stage right and Khan and three women (Moya Michael, Shanell Winlock, and Eulalia Ayguade-Farro) lunging at him stage left. The silence is now filled with Nitin Sawhney’s driving bass beat and the vertical line of four dancers seems like an army of forty as their upper bodies explode in fierce gestures. Slashing their arms across their bodies, swirling their hands around their heads, and articulating minute shapes with their fingers with energy so crisp, these rhythms can practically be heard over the soundtrack.

These gestures do not stop even as Ooi is consumed by the others, and they all begin to move through the space, occasionally standing on the periphery and stepping back in as another dancer leaves. By now tablas have filtered into the score and a voice has taken over with the “ta ki ta” syllables of vocal percussion. At one point, Khan accompanies himself with the verbal patterns, making his movement rhythms all the more clear as they are both seen and heard. In a breathtaking display of polyrhythms, the others join him, moving and interjecting syllables in counterpoint. Rooted to the floor, their torsos twist, arms whip, and fingers tell stories in numbers.

The piece continues; each segment motivated by or invoking different aspects of the Indian spirit Shiva. Khan explores the many facets of Shiva-- creator, destroyer, and god of dance-- and things associated with him. Perhaps the arm raised overhead with a hooked hand symbolizes the cobras around his neck. In silence Khan covers Michael’s eyes from behind, which could be referring to Parvati and the legend of Shiva’s third eye.

“Kaash” (the Hindi word for “if”), intelligently cycles through destruction, its aftermath, and recreation, arriving right back where it started like one comprehensive flashback. It includes spaces enough for observers to create their own sights, sounds, and ideas to add to the story throughout the process. In the midst of watching the piece, I started hoping that Kapoor and lighting designer Aideen Malone were making use of some optical illusion with their big black rectangle. Perhaps staring at it for an hour was going to cause me to continue seeing it even after I left the theatre, much like the lingering flash of a camera. This didn’t happen quite so literally, but Khan and his collaborators did provide a definite space to which my mind’s eye returns, a permanent palimpsest for the rhythms, images, thoughts, and feelings generated during the piece, an other-dimensional marker for revisiting the experience at will.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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