Odedra’s Murmur Dazzles with Sound, Light and Movement

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Wells, Sawhney, Murmur 2.0: Aakash Odedra Company, The Place, London, 20.11.2015. (J.O’D)

Murmur_Photo Sean Goldthorp 4
Aakash Odedra’s Murmur (c) Sean Goldthorp

Performed by: Aakash Odedra
Choreographers: Aakash Odedra, Lewis Major
Futurelab Project Management: Kristefan Minski
Futurelab Technical: Patrick Müller, Erin Reitböck
Futurelab Programming: Florian Berger, Roland Aigner, Otto Naderer
Futurelab Graphics/Animation: Andreas Jalsovic
Original Concept (Futurelab Involvement): Roland Harring
Lighting Designer: Andrew Ellis
Assistant Lighting Designer: Clare Byrnes
Composer: Nicki Wells
Music Supervisor: Nitin Sawhney
Dramaturge: Farooq Chaudhry

‘How long does it take to correct a mistake?’ asks dancer and choreographer Aakash Odedra near the start of Murmur 2.0. He counts. ‘Ten. Nine. Eight…Twenty-One.’ For it was at the age of twenty-one, he tell us later on, that the dyslexic Odedra looked at his passport and realised his name was spelt with a double ‘a’. ‘When I found that ‘a’,’ he says at the quiet climax of the piece, ‘I found a sense of control.’

A collaboration with Australian choreographer, Lewis Major, and with Ars Electronica Futurelab, the fifty-minute long Murmur 2.0 is an often dazzling combination of light, sound and movement. But it is never more effective than when Odedra kneels at the centre of the stage in contemplation of the two letter ‘A’s he has formed from lengths of muslin on the floor.

Before this, the muslin has hung as a screen on which are projected images in white on black: first a flock of birds, then a moving, earthbound figure. In a pre-performance talk held in The Place’s Founders’ Studio, Dr. Kate Saunders of the British Dyslexia Association spoke of the ability to ‘create things in the mind’s eye’ that people with dyslexia possess. If the birds are an echo of this, the figure could be taken to represent conflict or frustration. Behind the muslin, Odedra copies (or perhaps generates) its almost lumbering gestures. We seem to be watching a duet performed by aspects of a single person, one of which is trying to escape.

Lumbering is exactly what Odedra himself is not. As a child, according to the programme notes, he found written language so alien that ‘dance became his preferred mode of expression’. Slight-framed, bright-eyed, he has developed a style that combines contemporary dance with the flexible and percussive hands and feet of Kathak and Bharat Natyam. His own voice, rhythmically counting or calling out words, is sometimes the only accompaniment.

Murmur 2.0 is an extended version of a piece staged at the Royal Opera House earlier this year. The poignant climax is followed by a section in which a printer, placed high up above the stage, spews sheet after sheet of A4 paper. On the first is a large letter ‘A’; the rest are blank. With something of a Buster Keaton about him, Odedra tries to collect this paper. He brings on a large cardboard box, then a broom, then another broom. The sheets of paper remind one of a point made by Dr. Saunders in her presentation. Children with dyslexia have difficulty, at school, when moving from the three-dimensional (e.g. a chair) to the two-dimensional (e.g. the letters ‘p’, ‘b’ and ‘d’).

Fans placed in a circle around the stage whip the sheets of paper up into air. The piece ends in a maelstrom of muslin, paper, light, smoke and sound. Spinning at its centre is Odedra. The ‘A’ he found, lost. For all that, it is a flawed ending. The piece overreaches itself; the audience does not know when to clap. What one remembers most is the sense of mystification, and hurt, expressed by Odedra as he kneels and looks at the first two letters of his own name.

John O’Dwyer

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