Friday 9th October 2015
Echoes and I Imagine
Our rating: *****
The solo dance performance of Aakash Odedra tonight was sensational. I have not seen male dance of this calibre since I last saw Rudolf Nureyev in the 1970s. Odedra’s first piece was a stunning performance based on the Indian classical dance genre Kathak. Dancing to the choreography of Aditi Mangaldas, Odedra demonstrated the sublime artistry of his abilities, with movements that had razor-sharp timing, perfectly synchronised with the music. The work opened with with gloriously evocative sounds creating a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere, heightened by the lighting and the floor of the stage being spread with long filaments of golden threads studies with tiny bells, laid out to look like the ripples of a lake.
The piece drew on the image and symbol of bells, which hung from the top of the stage in clusters of long strings. As the programme notes explained ‘The resonance of the bells awaken us to the now. A breath and senses awakens. LIFE awakens me.’ The Kathak dance form is story-telling in motion. The elaborate footwork, enhanced by bells, attached to the ankles, was characteristic of the dance form; Odedra pulled down two of the long strands of bells and wound them around his ankles before proceeding to display amazing footwork, in his bare feet. In something that Western audiences would recognise as tap dancing, he also used his feet as percussion instruments, drumming on the stage, producing sequences of intricate rhythms. Echoes is a work that plays with the idea of bells, their tradition in classical dance, their ritualistic significance and their potential as a metaphor for freedom and awakening.
The piece also included many of the spinning movements – the chakkars – so characteristic of classical Kathak. What Mangaldas has done is to bring the ancient art form into the 21st century without losing any of its resonance and vibrancy. Some of Odedra’s spins were like those of an ice skater; he has a fluidity of movement that is remarkable but he combined this with dynamics that are amazing. All the time we watch those extraordinarily impressive hand movements, the fingers that wave and flutter like the wings of a bird. It was like seeing dance from another planet; something that moves forward what we understand about solo dance. Utterly enthralling and spellbinding throughout.
Echoes celebrated the form of classical Kathak, but the second piece – I Imagine – brought a totally new approach and direction to the stage. In it, Odedra demonstrated his sense of humour, his consummate capacity for entertaining his audience. It was another demonstration of his story-telling powers, using mime, antics and even spoken word to engage us in a meditation on the theme of travel and migration (very topical.) Odedra came on to a stage stacked with suitcases – like the bells, another evocative metaphor. This piece used a variety of masks to signify characters, not unlike those used by actors in classical Greek drama, I thought. At the beginning of the piece, one of the larger suitcases begins to move and Odedra emerges from it, foot by foot, leg by leg, rather like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. It reminded me of Ernest being found in a handbag. The story goes on to depict arriving in a new country, migration to a new and alien culture, the feelings evoking loss of homeland, leaving behind the ones that are loved, the challenges of accommodating a new style of life. And then Odedra does something totally innovative for a dancer – he engaged in a spoken monologue in which he used surprising skills of characterisation, speaking in accents to bring his characters to life, much to the amusement of the audience. It was a sequence that bore similarities to stand-up comedy, recollecting the Kumars, I thought. Towards the end of the piece, Odedra walked across the top of a line of suitcases, having used them beforehand to make an armchair and a house. It was a gleeful deployment of the props and one that took us a long way from the previous classical dance routines.
I Imagine included spoken word by the celebrated Sabrina Mahfouz, the British Egyptian poet, playwright and performer who was born in South London. Odedra’s collaboration with the award-winning Mahfouz created a work that was supremely one of theatre, one that gave us dance, drama, comedy and gymnastics. It reminded me of my previous experience at Curve when I saw Bromance, the production by the Barley Methodical Troupe that created a new genre of dance and gymnastics. Odedra commissioned the masks used in this production from circus practitioner David Poznanter (it must have been the association of circus that conjured the idea of the work by the Barley Methodical Troupe in my mind.)
Read our review of Bromance
Tonight’s World Premier of Echoes and I Imagine crowns the previous appearance made by Odedra at Curve, including Inked and Murmer in 2014.
Speaking after the performance, Odedra paid tribute to his teacher, the internationally renown Kathak dancer Nilema Devi MBE.
Read more about Nilema Devi
Aakash was commissioned by Curve Theatre in Leicester to choreograph a piece for the opening of the theatre in November 2008. This piece, called “Flight” was the only one invited to perform for HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh on their visit in December 2008 [Facebook]
Aakash Odedra was raised in Leicester and his company is based here.
Curve has over the years given us so much that is new and exciting in the arts and tonight was no exception.
Our news archive page with more about Kathak dance, Nilema Devi and Aakash Odedra.
Read our intro article about A Streetcar named Desire.