tue 23/07/2024

Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney, Sadler's Wells | reviews, news & interviews

Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney, Sadler's Wells

Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney, Sadler's Wells

Confluence of music and dance gleams best when it's simple

Akram Khan in Confluence: making silk purses out of tiny elements of movementChristina Paul

Akram Khan and Nitin Sawhney are too famous to need defining in terms of racial culture, and yet they make a lot of it in the spiel about their offering Confluence, closing the two-week Svapnagata festival at Sadler’s Wells this weekend.

When both of them last night were using their contemporary and classical roots with such unselfconscious richness, it was a jolt to read programme notes ponderously attacking “purists” as if the music and dance world were full of Nick Griffins burning to send them home somewhere.

Such special pleading taints the actual art they’re giving, because no defence is needed with an evening of such quality dancing and music as we often got last night. For one thing, Nitin’s band is mostly white, and his starry-voiced lead singer is a 21-year-old natural blonde called Nicki Wells, a student of classical Indian music who is set for a major career judging from her extraordinarily beautiful singing last night.

Whether any listener will ever be qualified to judge whether Nicki is “authentic” or not seems to me beside the point, when you’re listening to a voice of such fresh, luminously expressive timbre. If I say that I immediately suspected that this unseen singer was not an Indian, that’s not because I’m a “purist”, but that she has a voice like an English choirgirl. And I am not sure you need any expertise in authentic Indian classical singing to enjoy the mellifluous sweetness in this girl’s delivery.

Nor would anyone need any expertise to see that Akram is just something else, when it comes to dancing. He did it sparingly here, preferring to share the evening with other dancers performing episodes from his past work, in a creation that appeared less of a “world premiere” than him and Nitin sticking something amicably together for the occasion from their back catalogues. A spindly construction, but fortunately the Akram/Nitin back catalogues includes two first-class dance-theatre works, the recent Bahok and Kaash (from 2002, the one with Anish Kapoor’s design, still, to my mind, Akram’s best piece).

He preferred to share the evening with other dancers performing episodes from his past work

Bahok is his mildly angry meditation on the passport’s tyranny over a person’s identity, stories drawn from travelling experience and some ingenious dances invoking the sleepless, numb states of limbo that descend on the purgatorially delayed queues of non-EU nationals at UK immigration control.

A South African woman tries to explain that the man with her is a South Korean who speaks no English, she has only just met him, yet the contents of his suitcase - including his father’s shoes - become a deep focus of suspicion. This is mildly amusing, and better yet is when the Korean falls asleep in the line and is gently, floppily packed into his suitcase by other queuers, to make him easier to handle. Another young woman, sleeping on her feet, is manhandled gently by her pal in a series of accidental acrobatics until she ends upside down with her legs locked around his neck - and a strange new image emerges in their subsequent duet, invoking Shiva the transformer, the multi-limbed deity.

This was enjoyable dance-theatre, but even better was the slab of (if I recall aright) Kaash that Akram dynamically smacked across the stage, he and five other dancers, scything and jabbing their way in a smooth irresistible vanguard to an excitingly fierce percussion of tabla and vocalisation. These are shreds and snatches, and Fabbiana Piccioli’s haunting, low lighting and Yeast Culture’s custom-made visuals had been given the job of tying them into a theatrical package.

It wasn’t without egotistical padding: there were the usual video messages from Teacher that Akram loves to regale us with (“the self is not within”, “the raga is not in the musician’s hands”), and he and Nitin each delivered longwinded, pointless stories about themselves, which was a bore.

However, when Sawhney sat playing his flamenco guitar in the corner in the faintest glow of fiery light, with a huge soft shadow behind him, it was ravishing, the slides of his fingers seductive, his rhythms sucking juicily on pulse.

riz_mc_for_AkramAnd when Akram made silk purses out of tiny elements of movement - a mercurial solo out of hands snaking together with incredible articulacy, a percussive display of slapping feet and kathak ankle bells, and the astounding, whirling wind-vane dance with which he ended this patchy show - you were left with a long, blithe smile of joy. There are times when simplicity is the best means.

Performed again tonight in the main Sadler’s Wells theatre; in the Lilian Baylis Studio Riz MC (pictured right) in MICroscope. Booking for both here

Check out what's on at Sadler's Wells this season

Akram made a mercurial solo out of hands snaking together with incredible articulacy, a percussive display of slapping feet and kathak ankle bells

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I completely agree - I also went to see it last night and thought the simpler sections just that much better, maybe I am not being progressive enough and purism has had its moment but surely they should not be looking to be 'in fashion' or even care about what everybody else is doing - theatre and dance is a quest for truth. We did away with the traditional and constricting gimmicks only for them to be replaced with new ones. Even so, beautiful dancing and singing

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