26/4/10, Sadler's Wells
90 mins with interval. A game of two halves.
In the first half Akram Khan danced two Kathak-style solos to an accompaniment of tabla, sarod, cello, Japanese taiko drums and a singer with a small square box-like instrument with a keyboard which I didn't recognise. In between the singer sang a song; after the second solo AK took the mic, introduced the (amplified) band and improvised a series of percussion riffs with the tabla player involving the drums, the bells on AK's ankles and both men's voices making a sort of "ricky-ticky-takka" sound. The dances were dull (though the critics praised their marvellous intricacy), the song soporific. But the improvisations, resembling jazz, were electric. AK wore long buttoned tunic-jackets with the skirt cut into panels so it flared out when he pirouetted (which he did with frequency and spectacularly). The musicians were in black, barefoot, except for the Japanese Yoshie Sunahata who wore black and grey to play her drums: a sort of side drum and a bigger bass drum. All sat on the floor.
In the second part we got a piece called Gnosis. It was in five parts and came with a plot, helpfully spelt out on a handout sheet. The princess Gandhari marries a blind prince and blindfolds herself for life. She has 100 children, of whom the first goes to war; they all die, she immolates herself. For this Sunahata turned dancer, and singer. Most impressively versatile. The dance was highly stylised, involving a staff which she laid down at the start then picked up to serve as a blind person's cane. AK came on behind her, mimicking her gestures (very effective) then developing independent moves so it turned into a proper duet including much business with the staff; then he pirouetted wildly and collapsed. She prodded him and turned him with the staff and eventually lifted him with it. They danced, she sometimes trapping him between her arms and the staff, sometimes sweeping it in great arcs as he ducked and dived and dodged. I thought this very effective; Dr T thought it went on much too long.
Then (I can't remember by what process) it all went pear-shaped, culminating in her death and disappearance as the stage flooded with red light. In the coda she returned to kneel upstage centre in a gap between the curtain to sing a haunting lament, while he danced, shivering and trembling downstage. Slow fade, blackout.
Judith Mackrell in The Guardian thought Sunahata was the blind prince and AK his bride. I thought she was the princess (voluntarily taking up her staff of blindness near the start) and he was her son, by turns loving and rebellious. Mackrell also thought the narrative sketchy, which it was, and wanted more, which I certainly didn't.
The design was simple but effective. The curtain was made of some crumpled material which looked in certain lights like a rockface. The lighting in the second half mainly gave us a gradually expanding rectangle on the floor of bright white light.
Am I glad I saw it? Yes. Would I go again? No.