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Svapnagata, the two-week festival of Indian dance and music at Sadler’s Wells, began in what might have seemed disarray but proved to be a triumph. Akram Khan, one of the moving forces in this series of events, injured his shoulder four weeks ago and was unable to complete his new work Gnosis, which was to have been the second part of his programme. Undaunted, he kicked off the festival with his scheduled kathak dances, and then – tremendous pleasure – what he described as a “jam session” with his attendant and magnificent musicians.
Stifling absolutely no disappointment in this turn of events, I record that Khan, on superlative form and with the happiest command of his art and his audience, treated us to an extraordinarily revealing sequence of danced dialogues with drums and voice, in which his dancing and his rhythmic responses to ideas generated on stage displayed his amazing gifts. (And he ended with a closing solo from Gnosis that proposed a death scene of tremendous power: shaking, collapsing in on himself, Khan’s transformation was an astonishment.)
In his dancing, we recognise gifts of exceptional force and subtlety. Movement pours through and across Khan’s upper torso, blazing with energy or melting into exquisite poses. The rhythms arising from his “conversations” with accompanying voice or drum, with ideas exchanged, elaborated, one might say almost “discussed”, turn into flickering gesture, cobra-quick flashes of arms, patterns defined and then developed through the belled stampings of his feet. He seems alive with dance, becomes by turns its repository and master, releasing it in a blaze of speed or in subtlest phrasing.
Many years ago I was fortunate to see Balasaraswati, absolute mistress of the bharatanatyam style, a genius among dancers, and I recalled yet again as I watched Khan how hypnotic and how intoxicating can be the great exponents of this art, when movement is summoned up (as with outstanding flamenco performers) from the earth and becomes a form of spiritual or psychic possession. Khan, with his admirable musicians, on Monday night showed dance curling, flaring, seething through his body, rhythms stamped out, patterns responding to voice and drum. His art speaks tremendously of tremendous things.
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