Aakash Odedra

“Echoes & I Imagine” World Premiere at Curve – Review

10th Oct 2015

Echoes and I Imagine – World Premiere – Curve

By Trevor Locke
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.)

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.

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

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.

This entry was originally published in Arts In Leicestershire online magazine,  on March 12, 2016

Poems from 1969


from 1969

Marooned, 1969

I was a small boy;
perhaps I was twelve.

“Me an’ me mates
were over on ‘ayling Island.
Trev – ‘e’s me best mate –
‘e went back to the mainland on the ferry
but I couldn’t go, ‘cos I didn’t ‘ave
enough money. So Trev went over and
said he’d come back for me.”

I stood on the island shore
watching the tide pour through
the narrow channel between the islands
in a churning current.
Watching the figures on the mainland shore
hoping that one of them would come back for me.
I stood there alone, penniless…

…with a strange feeling deep inside me…

a feeling
a feeling

of being utterly alone
stranded, in a strange place,
far from home.

I was not afraid
even as the tears
momentarily blurred my vision.
I felt challenged to survive.
Independent. Self-dependent.
With a strange feeling,
an odd sensation deep inside me.

Stranded on an island far from home.
Across the raging water,
just three hundred yards away,
there was my friend.

I did not know
what that strange feeling was
but I called it

Since then I have
felt it again.
At times it creeps back;
when I am faced with
momentous decisions
when I have to make important plan
when I end a love affair.

On my island of life
I look across at the world.
I feel alone.
I am far from home.

But the challenge is to survive.
That dispels the blurring of my desolation.
Maroonia returns.

I did get back all right.
I did get home.
But now home is
eighty miles away.
I am an adult.

But I am still alone.


Room, 1969

Room with a view
and a gas ring
a hot and cold sink
a hot and cold bed
Bare walls distempered blue
and carpets fitted – more or less.

Heavy lorries roar
in Cromwell Road.
The gas fire hisses
at the coldness of my feet;
drafts carry away
the precious little heat.

I am here.
They are there,
all around me
boxed in little rooms
human units
anonymous entities
unrelated existences.

Roar, roar thou winter lorry;¹
thou art not so unkind
as Georgian architecture.

¹ a play on words from Shakespeare, As You Like It (II, vii)

My mind, 1969

My strange existence:
it is heavy like a rock
it is shallow like a stream
it is clear like a loch
it is false like a dream

From bubbles to butterflies
it changes, like passing clouds,
and winds that blow away
leaving the air to be still

I seek it with searching eyes
I seek it with straining ears
I seek it with with groping fingers
I seek it with quivering heart
quivering with frustration

I reach, at last, the truth:
Alas! The bubble bursts
the butterfly flutters away.

The Wind, 1969

I feel it blowing through my mind,
this wind of evening, warmed by the setting sun,
as light as the fleecy clouds, high in the radiant sky.
I feel this wind: breathing, gentle, ponderous,
softly in my heart, living in sentiments.
It blows faintly through deep bones and organs,
whistling in hot blood, collecting in the clear eye,
whirling around in the darkness of the brain.
My life is a wind of change, eternal transience,
but I, always ineffable, say
“I am I, for ever, come what may.”

Though I may suffer much, I never cry
from the bleeding rack of bloodied time
and unavoidable age. I never cry:
the wind will dry my tears before they fall.
I never cry. But, do I ever laugh?

My inner wind is never calm. From gales,
to fairest whispers, I am beaten down
by the movement of feelings,
emotions, sentiments, stinks and essences
of my life, my destiny, my death.

I never cry? I laugh, only to die, for a time
and I have parted friendless from enemies.
Be brave, for courage is
one’s only untaxed asset.
And tears fall in the drying wind of change.

Poor, sad eyes: dark pools within
the face’s wan virginity.
Dear wind: blow! blow!
My tears are drops of dew
in your desiccating kisses.

See also

A Poem of Tajihi

A Country Walk 

A poem of Tajihi, 1968

A poem of Tajihi, 1968

‘Cranes call, flying to the reedy shore;

how desolate I remain

as I sleep alone!’¹

Here lies a boy with empty arms,

his soft hair lying on the pillow.

When the sun bears the golden fruit

and lifts his head to melt the frost

and summon up the cock

he will awake and hear the sound

of reeds rustling in the morning breeze.

Then he will remember the evening passed,

he’ll see again the amber sun

reclining in a bed of rosy clouds.

That call again will echo in his ears,

the cranes will settle in their nests

and he will wander back

to his small bed – alone;

and on the way he’ll pick a fading rose

and sniff its mellow perfume,

he will lay it on the table by the book he read

last night. Then he will look

across the valley to the little town

where all the people live.

But now, he lies asleep

with no one in his world,

to make his fresh young heart

beat faster in its ruddy nest.

Those eyes of his will fade

before their dewy brightness

can be seen.

Cranes: call no more tonight!

Quoted from An old threnody by Tajihi Yanushi, an envoy, composed in grief at the death of his wife.

See all poems on poetry home page

A country walk 1966

A country walk, 1966

I walked all wreathed in bliss and happy thoughts,

bathed in the pleasant sunshine of the noon,

with grass, a happy carpet for my feet,

the trees were clothed in leaves so rich and thick,

the sky was blue and shining like the sun,

and all lived in the country’s earthly peace.

The sadness and the grief of concrete wrong

had left itself away, a journey long.

I wandered in the heart of nature’s breast,

and had no future, in my little life,

I was a cow, a ship and roaming beast.

I knew no place of living; here was rest –

it lay about me on the verdant grass,

There was no ardent torture for a climb

to higher ways and better means of life,

such things were lost in dim, historic time,

entombed beneath the joyous here and now

it was as though to heaven I had gone.

See all poems on poetry home page