Akram Khan’s Kaash at YBC November 20

13 Dec

S.F. Performance presented the revival of Akram Khan’s Kaash February 20-21 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; February 20 the lobby simmered with the liveliest anticipatory ambiance I’ve heard in a long time. It turns out Khan’s piece had been seen here before, in 2002. I must have missed it because my memory of him was first under the auspices of Andrew Woods’ San Francisco International Arts Festival and then under S.F. Performances when it brought a Khan work about individuals waiting in an airport lounge.

In the current fashion the work, fifty-five minutes long, was danced without intermission with five superb dancers, better I was told than the ones seen in 2002. However, this quintet rated only one line on the bottom of the left-hand page, no pictures, no bios, Nada. The two men, Sung Hoon Kim and Nicola Monaco, provided stark contrasts in height, muscle and movement qualities, if both were dressed in ankle length skirts which displayed their chests and after swirls to their lunges and turns. Twin sisters Kristine and Sade Alleyne, petite in size and Sarah Cerneaux were the women, their shorter skirts topped by shirts of the same color leaving their arms free.

The stage was open to the audience, dark; at the appointed hour a figure appeared, stationing himself up stage right, back to the audience. The audience became quiet, awaiting movement which did not arrive quickly. Instead it was asked to settle in, to attempt to be meditative before the action exploded with the marvelous,insistent rhythms of the tabla and the dancers began to exhibit the port de bras and body lunges or turns plus placement on the stage which made the work both fascinating and quite prolonged.

One of the arm positions reminded me of the gesture of a cobra, arm raised above the head, hand curved, the fingers gathered with a space between forefinger and thumb like an Egyptian hieroglifhic eye. Sometimes it was one dancer displaying it, other times the entire quintet

Khan provided a dazzling mid-section with a frenetic recitation of traditional Kathak bols, the mimetic sounds traded between tabla exponent and dancer with friendly antagonism in a traditional Kathak solo performance. The music in mid-passage became unnecessarily loud – perhaps conveying the destructive side of Shiva.

The stage patterns presented diagonal of the five from upstage right to down stage left, crossings singly, twos or threes, occasionally all five, the quintet lined up cross stage front, and pauses while one dancer carried the thrust of the movement.

At no time did the dancers touch another; yet the group’s coherence was a constant. There were some very exciting collective movements when the dancers seemed to be laboring, cross the body arm movements as if threshing, separating rice grains from stems. Paddy fields in Asia crossed my memory bank with an unbidden awe how deeply Khan was affected by travel to his ancestral country.

After a time the piece seemed repetitive. wondering how the final pattern would emerge; when it came, the figures swirled away, leaving Kim, back to the audience, almost where he began, the light lowering at a deliberate pace. Audience supplied an ecstatic ovation.

What I realized, listening later to comments about the piece’s longevity, was that Indian traditional performances quite often prolong a final piece, almost as if the artist is working himself into an ecstatic trance. It is not a Western habit, but under his amazing career in the UK, Akram Khan still works with his one-time East Bengali roots. Kaash is a wonderful reflection of these roots and his equally keen capacity to blend western styles into the lengthy, honorable sub-continent tradition.

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