Friday, June 10, 2011

'Vertical Road' by the Akram Khan Dance Company

10 June 2011

On Wednesday evening we and the rest of the delegates from the International Congress on Active Cultural Participation in Europe were part of a packed and enthusiastic audience in the amazing old theatre of the Vooruit Arts Centre in Ghent to see the Akram Khan Dance Company perform ‘Vertical Road’. This was the first time I had seen Akram Khan’s much celebrated choreography. From the start it was clear that it was going to be a high-quality show. We started in pitch blackness, only very gradually beginning to make out the indistinct shape of a human figure behind a giant translucent plastic sheet. This membrane displayed elaborate ripple patterns across the stage when touched. Eventually the solitary figure emerged from behind the sheet to encounter six other dancers with whom he started to interact. The soundtrack, by Nitin Sawhney, began with primitive, natural sounds which grew into a variety of rhythmic and melodic pieces. The overall effect was brutal and uncompromising – occasionally very loud and using some strobe lighting – but there were also some very beautiful passages. At one point one dancer ‘discovered’ his ability to move one of the others like a marionette with invisible strings, lifting his hand to raise the other dancer’s head then thrusting it down to make his colleague writhe on the floor: the dancing, athleticism and physical co-ordination was incredible. Overall the show was very impressive but, not being very familiar with modern dance, I found it a bit too long (at 70 minutes) to sustain my interest without a clear narrative to guide me. Nevertheless it was a fascinating experience.

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