Akram Khan takes choreography back to its fundamentals, but the results are hardly what anyone would call basic. On Tuesday, November 10, using every element available to inflect the organization of bodies in time and space, Khan’s dancers transformed the Granada stage from a simple platform into a portal accessing kinesthetic realms beyond the ordinary. Whether the house lights were up or down, whether the dancers were moving or perfectly still, and whether the soundtrack served up music, voices, or even silence, this 55-minute, three-part composition cast a spell.
The evening began with dancer Sung Hoon Kim standing in silence on the dimly lit stage with the house lights up and his bare back to the audience. This slow immersion entrance gave the audience a chance to settle in and focus not only on the dancers, but also on the subtly shifting rectangular backdrop created by Anish Kapoor. After a few minutes of this, the house lights went all the way down and four more dancers entered the stage—the twins Kristina Alleyne and Sadé Alleyne, a second bare-chested male named Nicola Monaco, and Sarah Cernaux. For the next half hour, the four moved continuously, blending the kathak elements of sharp steps and precise hand movements with a windmill-like propensity to initiate movement from the shoulders and the hips. The Nitin Sawhney soundtrack matched their movements with a steady electronic beat and streams of “bols,” a kind of mnemonic syllable used to notate and accompany the tabla.
After the steady build of the first third, the pace slackened and sequences of steps followed that were paired with quiet voices and stretches of silence. From this contemplative calm a massive electronic chord eventually emerged and fattened until it filled the Granada, causing some unwary audience members to flee the scene. It was both the first and the last such crescendo, and was followed by a carefully patterned denouement that pulled what came before back together into a coherent whole that was once again dominated by the slashing, stomping figures of kathak. Akram Khan is one of the world’s most influential choreographers, and it was easy to see, from this breakthrough work, why he has attracted so much interest internationally.