Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Akram Khan's Gnosis Review

Gnosis by Akram Khan

Akram Khan is one of those performers you keep hearing about until you give in a go to see what all the fuss is about. The cavernous Opera Theatre appeared to be almost full on the second night of this two night season. A woman sitting next to me was telling her friends about the show with a great deal of enthusiasm; she had attended the previous night as well.

The stage was bare for this performance with Akram taking centre stage and being flanked by his musicians, all tastefully dressed and sitting bare-foot on the floor. The instruments included a cello, tabla drums, taiko drums and a sarod (which sounded like a sitar). There were vocals throughout and the sound of Akram's pants, lined as they were with rows of tiny bells that jangled rhythmically as his feet tapped and stomped.

The music was exotic and as polished as you'd expect from the best hand-picked musos from around the world. Unfortunately if you were seated even a little off to one side at least one if not two players were obscured from view. I could not see Yoshie Sunahata on the taiko drums at all, which was frustrating, especially as the dancer had really talked her drumming skills up.

The first part of the performance involved traditional dance, a bit of a slightly competitive jam session between the dancer and the tabla player, and while there was no denying Akram's skill and grace, without any clear narrative I did have moments of feeling as though it was occasionally a little repetitive. Occasionally, too, the moves veered into comical aspects of interpretive dance. Having the undisciplined mind that I do, started to amuse myself by guessing what it was that he was doing... is he introducing the moon to the Earth? This is the moon, this is the Earth, you two should get to know each other. Now he's picking fruit and giving it to the people, but he's taking the fruit back from the people and running away with the people chasing him and shouting you can't give us the fruit and then take it away again! It's just not fair! Come back here with our fruit!

He also took time out to simply chat with the audience. He is very well-spoken, appears quite humble and has a good sense of humour, even if the quite sweet story about the cab driver and his father (by coincidence a long-lost boyhood friend of the cab driver) didn't ring true somehow. Both plus 1 and I speculated on how this story could have been true; neither of us came up with a satisfying explanation.

The second act was Akram's take on the story of the wife of a blind king who wears a blindfold for her entire life to share her husband's experience. This section had a much more contemporary feel to it, And I finally got to see the Japanese taiko player as she joined the main star in what was quite a stunning dance routine. The opening scene as the two of them mirrored each others sweeping movements as they mimed beating giant taiko drums was hypnotically gorgeous. This last act was the highlight for me and went down a treat with the crowd, many of whom thought the show worthy of a standing ovation during the lengthy and rapturous round of applause at the end.

Having seen Akram Khan for the first time, I kind of regret having missed him when he was here last time performing with French actress Juliette Binoche. I'll have to settle for looking forward to his next visit.

Oh - I really wanted to use the line, so you think Akram Khan dance somewhere in the review, but that would have been silly.

Lee Bemrose. Photo by Richard Haughton

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