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Kaash at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘a powerful reboot’

Akram Khan Company's Kaash at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Louis Fernandez Akram Khan Company's Kaash at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Louis Fernandez
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Like Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, Akram Khan’s first full-length work was an indelible mission statement. Once seen, it cannot be unseen. It is easy to imagine the bruising excitement generated at its debut in 2002. This revival is augmented by playing to the dancers’ individual strengths.

Although it is largely abstract, splinters of intent protrude through the piece throughout; Indian mythology competes with industrial technology, science collides with religion. None of this is explained or elucidated yet the combination of sharp, powerful gestures and flowing Kathak energy leaves little doubt about the inherent nature of the work. With only five dancers (three women, two men) and a soundtrack that slips back and forth between thunderous electronica and total silence, it somehow achieves an epic dimension.

Against a screen that might be an empty picture frame waiting to be filled, the entrance to a tunnel or a wall-sized TV set, the dancers wrench themselves through a series of vigorously beautiful sequences. One man stands patiently while the others traverse the stage pumping the air like a steam engine. As their synchronisation begins to unravel, each creates his own gestural identity, whether spinning like a dervish or folding over like human origami. Arm gestures, requisitioned from Khan’s Kathak training, are so powerful they appear to dictate the direction of the entire body. Occasionally, voices whisper questions as if from the recesses of an empty Underground station, sometimes played backwards.

Following a silent sequence, the sudden aural impact of Nitin Sawhney’s score sounds as if the gods are hammering on the theatre’s roof. Black skirts flowing and billowing on both men and women, limbs stretching outwards and upwards as if imbued with independent life, lighting low and mysterious, illuminating the shifting musculature of the men’s torsos and the angular fluidity of the women, this is as bold and confident a work now as it was when it first hit the stage.

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Akram Khan’s first full-length work gets a powerful reboot 14 years after its debut