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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 9 DECEMBER 2016 — Akram Khan was the first artist to perform at the opening of the new Théatre dans la Ville* at the Espace Pierre Cardin in Paris with  Toro a new solo work based on the same concept as Torobaka, created with Israel Galvin in 2014, which blended Kathak and Spanish dance. When a serious knee injury suffered by the Spanish master put an end to their joint appearances overseas, the two got together to produce the magical Toro, in which Khan himself took centre stage aided by his brilliant percussionist B.C. Manjunath and Galvin’s amazing singers, the counter tenor David Azurza and contralto Christine Leboutte. The hand-clapping flamenco palmero, Bobote also joined Khan in a memorable duet. All four artists took a much larger part in the work than in the earlier Torobaka. Who else but the multi-gifted Khan could turn an artistic setback into something exciting and innovative?

Each time Akram Khan performs, the speed at which he moves always surprises; each time he dances one’s eyes are riveted to his whirling steps and rapid whip-lash gestures. Moreover, in Toro, clearly a tribute to Galvin, one felt the flamenco dancer was present in much of the choreography. The piece, however, was less about the death, killing and destruction lurking in their earlier work, and more about the true meeting of two distinct yet not so dissimilar cultures. Raw emotion there was, but gone was any clash between Spain and India, gone was the struggle for supremacy so dominant in the 2014 work which gave it a disturbing element of unbalance. In its place was an elegance dominated by the complicity between Khan and the musicians.

Bobote and Akram Khan in Toro
Photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez

From the opening sequence with four black-clad figures emerging from the darkness, the piece was a fusion of styles, a symbiosis of the two dance forms; there was a give and take. It was a show of breathtaking grace and fluidity with Khan’s big, generous circling arms combining with his stamping feet recalling the presence of the Spanish master. Unforgettable was the moment when he moved along the floor on his hands and feet, a pair of white flamenco shoes on his hands as he  pounded out the staccato, insistent Spanish rhythms with one can only describe as ‘duende’, that inexplicable quality of the true artist, whatever their origins.

Again with Galvin in mind, a choreographer who perceives his pieces rather as a series of tableaux, the piece had no story to tell, excepting from what sprang to the imagination from the title, Toro, the Spanish for bull. It was an evening where the meeting of music and dance had been greatly intensified, and which ended when the softly spoken Khan came to the forefront of the stage to speak of the importance of art in breaking down barriers.

Akram Khan in Toro
Photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez

"I’m British", he said, "and my audience tonight is French, and I’m happy that I could present this blend of Indian culture with Spanish dance. I want to emphasise the importance of the arts as bringing together all nationalities and cultures. No walls must be built, and all barriers eradicated in the increasingly dangerous world we are leaving to our children"

The audience, each one offered a glass of wine at the end of the performance, emerged from the theatre into the spectacular Christmas lighting on the Champs Elysées, everyone with a lighter heart than when they had arrived.
*Closed for a period of renovation for the following two seasons, the Théatre de la Ville will  continue to host shows at the Théatre des Abbesses as well as at up to 20 other theatres in the Paris area including the Espace Cardin, La Villette, the Chatelet and the Théatre des Champs-Elysées.

Headline image: Akram Khan in Toro
Photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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