A word, first, of explanation. The title of Akram Khan’s new installation – I am reluctant to call it a dance-work – in Rosebery Avenue claims to be “in The Mind Of igor” (sic). Khan’s breezy familiarity with Stravinsky is, I realise, typical of the egregious first-name culture that infests our world, but is nonetheless, impertinent, and errant in its use of capitals. And, we all know – as with the miserable certainties of an obsessive disorder – we are now celebrating the centenary of the first performance of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps.
So Khan (of whom I expected vastly better things, superb dancer that he is) has joined the mob and laid his bizarre offering on this over-crowded altar. And, with a lack of that eloquent authority which this stylish artist has ever shown in performance, he has decided that he can explore Stravinsky’s mind and the composer’s inspiration for this tremendous score. No more tiresome, more ill-conceived idea can lately have hit the stage – and this I note in the week of Raven Girl.
In brief, what is on view for an extinguishing 65 minutes is a series of nightmare incidents and moments of hermetic quaintness as the cast run and pose and nag at each other and involve themselves in cussed and unsavoury and largely incomprehensible activities, all in the good name of “ritual sacrifice”.
We begin with Abraham baying about and laying about Isaac, and then various bizarre characters – a woman in a crinoline, men wearing ibis horns, a sacrificial girl badgered with applications of white chalk, several men much given to fierce attacks of the grovels in manic outfits – are called up as fantasies from the Mind Of igor. (I recall that Alicia Markova, who worked with Stravinsky chez Diaghilev and for whom he wrote Scènes de ballet, always called him “Mr Stravinsky”.)
The rigours of Stravinsky’s compositions, their unfailing clarity and motive power, their grandeur and suitability for dancing – as Balanchine proved – are everywhere ignored in this stupefying exercise in guess-work. There are accompanying scores by Jocelyn Pook, Ben Frost, Nitin Sawnhey, and fine lighting by Fabiana Piccioli.