An ambitious dance work from Akram Khan - review

Akram Khan grew up with two main cultures and dance disciplines - classical Kathak and contemporary dance.

 THE AKRAM Khan Company’s ‘Outwitting the Devil.’ (photo credit: JEAN-LOUIS FERNANDEZ/REUTERS)
THE AKRAM Khan Company’s ‘Outwitting the Devil.’

Akram Khan Company had performed here a few times before and left behind memorable impressions and a strong impact. Khan is known to be innovative, with an affinity to ethnic cultures and compassion to nature which feed his artistic curiosity.

His latest creation, Outwitting The Devil, is set in dark ambiance with a mid-storm mood enhanced by Vincenzo Lamagna music and sound design. The prolonged tempestuous sounds controlled the level of intensity on stage. Two elements influenced the making of Outwitting The Devil; the particular point in time when the pandemic had affected the lives of millions, which coincided with Khan’s decision to give up his own active dancing, his life-long calling.

Born in England to a Bangladeshi family, Khan grew up with two main cultures and dance disciplines; the classical Kathak and contemporary dance. He intertwined both practices in varied measures which became the strong and central pillars of his creative choreographic landscapes.

His inherent barometer had directed him towards one of the earlier written myths – a long time well of inspiration for him – as he focused on the gory Mesopotamian tales of Gilgamesh, carved 3,500 years ago on hardened clay tablets.

There were only six dancers on the big semi-dark stage, yet the eyes were mostly glued to three men with compelling presence entangled in their animalistic interactions. Those dancers performed the more impressive solos and duets, depicting larger-than-life figures in that ancient story. They, along with the other dancers followed Khan’s unusual body perception outlines. This time, he instilled in their bodies powerful, often brutal moves which seemed to freeze in midair, assuming ancient sculptures-like quality. His outstanding attention to minute details was absolutely captivating.

 AKRAM KHAN’S ‘Outwitting the Devil.’  (credit: JEAN-LOUIS FERNANDEZ/REUTERS) AKRAM KHAN’S ‘Outwitting the Devil.’ (credit: JEAN-LOUIS FERNANDEZ/REUTERS)

The presence of dramatic lighting design and overpowering sound effects strengthened the eerie mood on stage, and the dancers’ inventive use of the body with compelling movements of hand and fingers gestures – depicting their state of mind – gave a surreal impression which belonged to bygone eons. Although in this work, most of the movements’ lexicon is derived from contemporary dance perceptions, on more subtle levels, traces of the ethnic dance were present, as a layer over or under his basic contemporary approach, and enriched it.

Now, when Khan can celebrate decades of artistic success and world recognition, he came up with one of his more ambitious projects. This work dares to stare at one of humanity’s evil moments as it prays for the sublime.