fri 13/12/2019

iTMOi, Akram Khan Company, Sadler's Wells Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

iTMOi, Akram Khan Company, Sadler's Wells Theatre

iTMOi, Akram Khan Company, Sadler's Wells Theatre

Choreography is the victim in a collaborative tribute to Nijinsky's 'Rite of Spring'

Dancing in the dark: Akram Khan's tribute to the Nijinsky Rite of Spring centenary

When the public “got” or did not “get” the original Rite of Spring of Nijinsky and Stravinsky exactly 100 years ago this week, they couldn't call on emotional logic or aesthetic familiarity or symbolic recognition to help. Only imaginative reflex could cause some people to describe in words (the “fearful regrouping of the cells”) or pictures (Valentine Gross’s vivid, instant pencil sketches) what the iconoclastic piece felt like to experience.

That, in a sense, holds good for every dance work. Even story-ballets should repel instant verbal description or understanding (or they’d be poetry, plays, novels). They can only beckon to you, extend their mute hooks to catch up your thoughts and awaken you. And in a piece so tied up in its music as the Rite of Spring, you were starting with the hugest, densest, snarliest thicket of music ever provided for dance, which has inspired around 200 hapless choreographic versions in 100 years of which only three or four have managed to stay.

Akram Khan, commissioned by Sadler’s Wells to provide the keynote dance creation to mark the centenary, sidled around Stravinsky artfully. He refused the music and commissioned his own from three composers, Jocelyn Pook, Nitin Sawhney, Ben Frost. He obscured the theme with an evasive title, iTMOi, an acronym for “in The Mind Of igor”, one of those irritating web-password efforts that the modish stable of Sadler’s Wells choreographers like to produce after days of brainstorming (TeZukA, iTMOi, Puz/zle), and just as easy for us out there to mispronounce, misremember, forget.

But did Akram lose his own password? Unlike the piercingly lucid and fantastical DESH, his last full-length work here, which took us definitely and resonantly into the mind of Akram, iTMOi feels smothered by its multiple collaborators, designed, light-designed and sound-designed past the point where the choreographer could clear any space for the dance. The victim in this sacrificial rite of style is the dance.

Watch the trailer for iTMOi:

A marriage is the governing theme: as I read it, there’s a shaman-father, who shrieks incoherent texts invoking Abraham and his sacrifice of his son Isaac; a goddess-bride in a sumptuous boned white dress and extraordinary headdress like a lace swan; a supplicant young man like a nervous groom; and two who may be Akram’s own familiar avatars - a child in white and an acrobatic mystery-man who tumbles in eyecatching circles around the stage flipping up his black skirt to wink its crimson red lining at us. Others of the 11 performers are Maenad wedding guests, half-wild in scrabbling dances that evoke descriptions of Nijinsky’s originals. Several of the lead characters appear, at various points, candidates to be the victim of this intimidating crowd (Poirot-like, motives can be fashioned to fit any of them).

The sound clamours for attention, a patchwork of bells tolling, rock guitars and drums hammering, crackling vinyl, some romantic crooning by a female voice; Stravinsky’s immortal opening bassoon call from his 1913 score only faintly murmurs in at the very end. 

As he strains in vain to see into Stravinsky’s mind, one strains in vain to see inside Akram’s 

No expense has been spared on obtaining curling mists and a dungeon obscurity. Several characters have a dance soliloquy - the child thrashes out an exhausting, detailed solo, the groom (if I identified him right in the darkness) becomes a bound victim twitched on the end of a dozen ropes by cruel outliers, the bride does an arrestingly graceful bit of business with her arms alone (her legs are deeply buried inside her dress). Some of these are beautiful episodes, yet I couldn’t join them any more than I could join the music, I found no threads to tie each vision to a place where it could yield some significance. Handsome clothes, expert lighting, verbose programme notes - but what then?

Akram has spoken of his wish not to explain, the duty of the audience to see what it can see. So, as he strains in vain to see into Stravinsky’s mind, one strains in vain to see inside Akram’s. He is without doubt one of the greatest dancers that I’ve ever seen, whose gifts are marvellous in imagining solos and personal reveries, and whose training in Kathak feeds that tendency. But he has the difficulty faced by almost all brilliantly individual performers in transferring his physical mastery to less gifted dancers and in finding sure images of his own that will survive the rough-and-tumble of collaboration and committee.

DESH, his solo epic, was tremendously moving, Akram's own dancing placed like an expressive diamond in the brilliant setting provided by its visual and sound designers. iTMOi is the converse: the collaborators have taken over the thing, and Akram’s choreography feels undernourished, added on after the costumes and lighting effects were put into the storyboard. Fortunately, he brings DESH back to Sadler’s Wells for a brief run in mid-June.

Find @ismeneb on Twitter

The sound clamours for attention, a patchwork of bells tolling, rock guitars and drums hammering

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Comments

"Unlike the piercingly lucid and fantastical DESH, his last full-length work here, which took us definitely and resonantly into the mind of Akram, iTMOi feels smothered by its multiple collaborators, designed, light-designed and sound-designed past the point where the choreographer could clear any space for the dance." DESH had just as many creative collaborators as (if not more than) iTMOi, several who were present almost throughout. DESH was not just a peek into Akram's mind, it held reflections of a bruised, resilient land and people. Their stories - including a few from his own kith - are the ones that Akram inhabits through the piece. Perhaps Akram's bravest and most generous artistic choice was to open the ossature of DESH and allow it to be shaped and reshaped by half a dozen odd creative partners and the shards of Bangladesh each one had returned with, to allow his vision of Bangladesh to be coloured and even transformed by theirs. That it then came alive and took wing is as indicative of the power of his kinetic narrative and vision as his - and their - ability to meld individual contributions into a larger, seamless whole. The mighty left-handed compliment made above to the "epic solo"-ness of DESH is reassurance enough that the collaborators - visible and less visible, in the larger external myth of the making - achieved precisely what they set out to do. Thank you for the insightful review, which, as very often here, was also a delight to read. And it is always heartwarming to see DESH appreciated, but highly discomfiting when it happens at the expense of another piece - a newer, more challenging piece to make - especially when the parallels made are not parallel. Without at all commenting on the creative process of iTMOi, it can truthfully be stated that DESH too went through " the rough-and-tumble of collaboration and committee" (as did Sutra and TeZukA, to take another 'modish' choreographer's work!): dance has for long been highly collaborative, for better or for worse, and the rough-and-tumble is often as vital - if potentially uncomfortable - phase in the making as smelting in metallurgy. Of course there may be flaws and imperfections in one and the both (and it always helps to have them enumerated and analysed), and viewers will, inevitably, prefer or idealize one rather than another. But it would be unfair to both the main artist and the creative teams - of both pieces - to have them reduced to generic projections about the evils of the collaborative process.

"Of course there may be flaws and imperfections in one and the both" Oops, apologies. I meant, "in one and both".

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters