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AKRAM KHAN SCORES WITH THE NATIONAL BALLET OF CHINA

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 30 JANUARY 2009 - Akram Khan's intriguing new piece, Bahok, a Bengali word for "carrier", is the story of a journey, but in this case it's a journey to nowhere as the passengers all end up, physically at least, in the same place as they were at the beginning. It is a voyage of self-discovery at the same time funny, moving and very beautiful, while the sequences when all the dancers move in unison are simply riveting.

This is the kind of dancing that thrills; pure dance so rarely seen in these days of empty intellectualism where weary choreographers in search of inspiration strip their dancers naked.

Khan first gained public acclaim with stunning traditional Kathak performances when he was alone on stage with his musicians. This was followed by a series of unique contemporary works where he invented and developed a new language of movement, but where, on stage himself with the company, his powerful presence made it difficult to tear one's eyes away from him. A recent trilogy of duets with three French stars featured choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, ballerina Sylvie Guillem, and actress Juliette Binoche. Bahok, however, is the first example of a cross- cultural exchange between his London based contemporary dance company and the National Ballet of China. It is all the more exciting since modern dance was banned in China up until 1980.

Three Chinese dancers join five of Khan's own who are themselves South African, Spanish, Korean, Indian and Slovakian. If one takes into account that Khan himself is British, of Bangladeshi origins, this makes up a rare assortment, all of whom excepting the choreographer, are thrown together in what is suggested to be an airport lounge, some with a suitcase and others without.


Akram Khan: Bahok
Akram Khan Company and the National Ballet of China
Photo courtesy of Theatre de la Ville, Paris

The scene is simply set with chairs, but is dominated by a digital destination board which clicks out the information that flights have been "delayed" or "rescheduled", but curiously spells out Air, Water, Fire, or Earth. No destination is announced. The work begins with Eulalia Ayguade Farro, a superbly light, lithe dancer, rummaging frantically through a handful of documents, presumably searching for her passport or her lost identity. She tries to talk to one of the Chinese ballerinas, but as neither understand the other's language, the conversation is impossible. The other passengers give her a wide berth, occupied as they are with their portable telephones, a contact with home?

Abruptly, Nitin Sawhney's music pounds out and the dancers explode onto the stage, spinning and whirling in thumping and banging synchronization, their arms cutting through the air in a blur of speed. This is the kind of dancing that thrills; pure dance so rarely seen in these days of empty intellectualism where weary choreographers in search of inspiration strip their dancers naked.


Akram Khan: Bahok
Akram Khan Company and the National Ballet of China
Photo courtesy of Theatre de la Ville, Paris

The Chinese ballerina, Wang Yitong gets tangled up with handsome Andrej Petrovic. She has fallen asleep on his shoulder, and when awoken dangles upside down behind him, performing one of the most poetic, inventive and lyrical movements of the work. Effective lighting highlighted two pairs of arms, first rounded then straightened, undulating, twisting, entwining and flickering in waves of brightness. When the pair shuffled forward forming a single body, with Yitong's face atop Petrovic's foreshortened legs they gave an image of an Indian god, for many in the audience, a somewhat humorous one. South African, Shanell Winlock, an extraordinarily expressive young dancer was also remarkable in a short solo in which she danced wearing one of her father's shoes; at one point she could not take her foot off the floor.

This entrancing work which Khan himself described as being "a sort of modern version of the Tower of Babel" in which the interpreters seek to find where they came from and where they were going ,proved to be one and a quarter hours of sheer delight, moments touched by grace.

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. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com

Title Photo: Akram Khan

Related Culturekiosque Dance Archives

Not Quite Dance or Theatre - Call it Ars Gratia Binoche

East Meets West in Sacred Monsters

An Interview with Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan

National Ballet of China : Raise the Red Lantern

Dance Review: Akram Khan Company

Akram Khan: Beyond Kathak

Dance Review: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the Ballets C. DE LA B.: 'Tempus Fugit'



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