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Flash Review 1, 10-30: Life in the Dark
Stillness and Rush from Akram Khan

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- I was recently walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and there was a sustained southerly wind that day. The odd thing was, I didn't notice the wind until it subsided briefly. It had been pushing against the right side of my body so steadily that I had been leaning against it, and when it stopped my body compensated by listing that way. It made me rethink how air occupies the space around us but that we take it for granted unless we need to push against it when in a vehicle, or in flight, or when deprived of it.

I took similar notice of the weighty presence of space while watching Akram Khan at The Kitchen last Wednesday. Other things I normally take for granted, such as light, darkness, stillness, and silence, became tools which Khan used sparingly and intelligently to create breathtaking theater.

In a solo, "Fix," Khan began in stillness, then shot an arm out, passing through a lunge into a bouncing plie. He placed his flat palms on an invisible object, passing behind it, mime-like. More stillness, then a tiny flicker of the fingers, led into bursts of movement. Evoking Sufism, Khan developed a spinning pattern of 1-1/4 turns at each compass point, accelerating into 2-1/4 turns at each point. The sound (by Nitin Sawhney) seemed to come closer as it grew in volume, then recede and repeat. Small panes of light of varying intensity were projected onto the floor, creating a mosaic (in lighting by Michael Hulls).

"Loose in Flight," another solo by Khan (to sound by Angie Atmadjaja), was shown as a short film and then performed live in a New York premiere. Remarkably, the film (directed by Rachel Davies) felt as organic as the dance did, showing similar techniques to heighten drama and visual interest in the live performance. For example, in the live performance, with the use of stillness, Khan could focus the audience's eye on one spot on stage the same way a camera focuses on one spot. He used sound, darkness and space as palpable elements.

Working from a base position with his arms held chest high, elbows out, Khan knit together suggestions of Kathak (in which he is trained) with lyrical passages and whipping turns. Interestingly, at least for those unschooled in the Kathak vocabulary, Khan was able to imbue the slightest movement with a meaning and profundity that paralleled the experience of watching traditional Kathak. With no way to interpret these gestures, they all took on a similar gravity and semaphoric precision.

"Rush" was performed by Khan with Gwyn Emberton and Moya Michael to music by Andy Cowton with lighting by Hulls. As the piece began in stillness, a chirping sound grew in volume until it became almost unbearable. The sound peaked, the dancers rushed upstage, darkness fell, and it felt momentarily like the end of the world (again), like all the air, light, and sound had been sucked out of the building. The moment showed that Khan has a sure grasp on the power of theater.

Then the piece began again. The dancers bent over with flat backs, arms like wings, or they hung in half with their arms lank. Some of the movement evoked Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Rosas company (with whom Khan spent some time): picking up speed, the performers dropped and rolled with lightning quickness across the stage. They drew their shoulders together and shivered with De Keersmaeker's vulnerability. This time working from a starting lunge, back flat, fists together, a move would fade in energy, only to snap afresh into the next step with vigor. The dancers' concentration and focus demanded the same from the audience. Khan played with the geometry of the body walking on all fours, like ill-proportioned gorillas. Another blackout, and in the darkness, we heard hard breathing and whooshing, produced by Emberton windmilling her arms at top speed as the lights came up. It was a reminder that even in complete darkness, life goes on.

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