Every international traveler knows the feeling of limbo: the surreal experience of crossing time zones, the lonely anonymity of airport terminals, and the sense of displacement in an unfamiliar culture. In his latest work, U.K.-based choreographer Akram Khan draws out the challenges and the unexpected thrills of such displacement. Khan’s bahok pays homage to the experience of being far from home and to the human impulse to seek connection, even in the company of strangers.
Eight young people occupy the stage. Most sit slumped in chairs, avoiding eye contact with one another. One man stands with a duffel bag in one hand, gazing at a blank screen as if waiting for instructions. There’s some aimless fidgeting and pacing until the screen flicks to life. Everyone gathers to watch the letters and numbers roll past, then resolve into a message: “Please Wait.” The man breaks into movement, his long limbs trailing like ribbons tossed from the central column of his spine. Then a woman lunges across the floor, sliding and rolling, pacing on all fours like a caged animal: wild yet beautifully refined.
The screen never relieves the dancers from a sense of time suspended. “Delayed,” it announces at one point, and later, “Rescheduled.” In the face of such uncertainty, they turn to one another, speaking in various languages as they attempt to bridge cultural divides. Sometimes they use no words at all. One man convulses, his chest heaving, until a woman gathers his shaking body in her arms. A sleeping girl wraps her legs around a nearby man. He resists, and then gives in to a strange and lovely duet in which their eight limbs seem to be parts of a single organism.
Sometimes the dancing in bahok is so high-energy it’s vicious; the dancers lacerate the space around them with razor-sharp, slicing limbs. In other moments, they move as if in a stupor, like long-haul fliers who’ve missed a connection.
Like the experience of culture shock, bahok is disjointed, at times frustratingly so. Yet woven through its vignettes are micro-narratives that form the emotional center of the work. Shanell Winlock sits downstage for a tense customs interrogation, refusing to open a bag that she claims contains “only my father’s shoes.” Later, she delivers a quavering solo, stepping in and out of an oversized pair of men’s brogues.
Then there is Eulalia Ayguade Farro’s character—a woman whose oddness sets her apart from the others although she tries again and again to find her place among them. Muttering under her breath, carrying bits of crumpled paper, gazing into strangers’ faces until they turn away, she reminds us of our vulnerability and our deep need to find home, no matter where in the world we are.