Akram Khan Pays Tribute to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook, Ben Frost, iTMOi: Akram Khan Company, Sadler’s Wells, London, 10.6.2014 (J.O’D)

 Dancers: Kristina Alleyne, Sadé Alleyne, Ching-Ying Chien, Denis ‘Kooné’ Kuhnert, Yen-Ching Lin, T.J. Lowe, Christine Joy Ritter, Catherine Schaub Abkarian, Nicola Monaco, Blenard Azizaj, Cheng-An Wu
Artistic Director and Choreographer: Akram Khan
Composers:Nitin Sawhney, Joceyln Pook, Ben Frost
Producer: Farooq Chaudhry
Costume Designer: Kimie Nakano
Lighting Designer:Fabiana Piccioli
Scenographer: Matt Deely
Dramaturge:  Ruth Little

Commissioned by Sadler’s Wells last year in response to the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Akram Khan’s iTMOi (‘in the mind of Igor’) focuses on ritual sacrifice in different cultures, and on doubt. It includes references not only to the Chosen Maiden (now Chosen One) of the Nijinsky ballet created to the music in 1913, but also to Abraham and Isaac, the Kyrie eleison, and the figure of the scapegoat. The score is by three different composers, who worked in collaboration with the choreographer but independently of each other to reflect what Akram Khan refers to as the ‘multiple worlds existing in his [Stravinsky’s] brain’. In some sections of the piece the choreographer’s hybrid of the kathak form of Indian classical dance and contemporary movement wrings expression from his dancers’ arms, legs, hands and feet (their jumps on the spot from a position of deep pli . By the end, though, iTMOi is weighed down by words, symbolism and the cinematic spectacle of its costumes and staging.

‘Abraham! Isaac! Sacrifice! Sacrifice! Sacrifice!’ mutters an amplified, priest-like figure who is the first to appear, as if to let the audience know what the work is going to be about. He is joined by a chorus (or tribe) of dancers, and by a woman in a white crinoline and white, spun-fibre headdress who glides about the stage, her bodice covering only one breast, like a high priestess. In the sacrificial drama that follows, one of the dancers tries to save the Chosen One from her fate. The others show their rejection of him by standing very erect, with their chins raised and one elbow thrust into the air at his approach. They circle the Chosen One, stamping the floor with violence as the original Rite of Spring dancers may have done it.

It is at this point that things start to get complicated. A figure resembling that of Nijinsky in L’Après-midi d’un faune moves in a two-dimensional way in shadow across the back of the stage. When he comes into the light, his horns, or antennae, introduce a sense of David Cronenburg ‘body horror’ into the piece. He might refer to the Minotaur. He might refer to the Devil. In either case the Chosen One is killed not by him, but by the priest, who appears immediately to feel repentance for his act. The man who tried to save her is now brought on as the scapegoat, bound by ropes (to the words of the Kyrie). Then the Chosen One herself returns; the priestess places the white headdress on her head. Finally, the Chosen One and a male dancer perform, semi-naked, a duet in which they could be figures from a Creation Myth (to music that includes thirty seconds, played three times, from the very start of Stravinsky’s score). As they do this, a gold sphere that has been suspended above the stage from the start descends to swing like a pendulum between them.

The audience at Sadler’s Wells responded with enthusiastic cheering and applause, but compared to the taut, intense and moving Dust that Akram Khan was to create earlier this year for Lest We Forget (English National Ballet’s First World War commemoration), iTMOi is overloaded with ceremonial gesture and impenetrable meaning.

John O’Dwyer

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