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© Louis Fernandez
© Louis Fernandez
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A Review Of Akram Khan's Kaash

Picture of Paula Koller-Alonso
Updated: 27 March 2016
Akram Khan’s name is synonymous with 21st-century British modern dance. He is seen as one of the entrepreneurs of mixing two classical dance styles together. With his innovative technique, Khan has managed to merge both Khatak and contemporary dance to create a binary fusion that celebrates culture, heritage and tradition. In the revival of his 2002 piece Kaash, Khan aims to celebrate black holes, dimensions, time cycles creation and destruction.

Kaash is a captivating piece from the very beginning. There is a constant flux within the atmosphere of the performance, and the piece is always aiming to surprise the audience. There are several paradoxes that Khan tries to explore throughout the work. We find a juggle between light and dark, canons versus synchronisation, and sudden movement and stillness.

© Louis Fernandez
© Louis Fernandez

Whilst the lights of the theatre are still on, one of the male dancers walks out on the stage, facing his back to the audience. The theatre goes quiet – everyone expects the show to start. But despite this anticipation, nothing else happens. The dancer stands on stage with the lights on for over ten minutes. The audience in the theatre starts to become uncomfortable with the situation, they are starting to get irritated. There are suppressed coughs, confused murmurs, intrigued eyes searching for another sign around the theatre that this is not the only thing happening on stage. As the time passes, the audience grows louder – a silent murmur has now grown to full-blown conversation again, and the people are starting to forget the artist on stage. It is then when the element of surprise hits the theatre: a loud bang and the lights go off from one second to the next.

Four more dancers join the one still standing facing with his back to the audience. The music is a fusion of modern beats and Khatak singers – Khan has encompassed his Indian-British merging throughout the entire performance. The dancers start to move ferociously across the stage. Khan has obviously experimented with different patterns and structures. Although the movement is repetitive and similar for all the dancers, there is a variation of who dances what together. Whilst two may be moving simultaneously, the other three are doing a different movement each, or a different one in a canon. At times, there are duets, group dances, or solos. But they always return to a synchronous structure – a way of saying that dimensions and times may change, creations may be destructed, but a fusion can always be found again.

© Louis Fernandez
© Louis Fernandez

The movement has its obvious link to Khatak dance. The dancers are very focused on their hands and arms. Even their fingers seem to have a stylised movement of their own. The arms are swung from side to side, pressing the air in between them. The hands create a peacock shape, pushing the fingers downwards. At times, the movement works together with the music. We hear a counting of numbers in the singers’ voices, and the dancers count their fingers alongside these words. At other times, the movement is persistently working against the music, however, still creating a captivating visual experience.

© Louis Fernandez
© Louis Fernandez

There are moments when there is complete silence. Just as in the beginning, Khan experiments with the limits of paradoxes. The audience is meant to just focus on the movement of the dancers. In an astounding solo, one of the female dancers creates a fierce and powerful movement pattern, which is so rapid that the eyes of the spectators can almost not follow. She twists and winds along the floor and is standing up again so fast; you don’t understand how that is physically possible. And as sudden as her movements are, that is how sudden the solo ends again. Working with the contradiction of stillness and suddenness, Khan creates a consistent flux of visual spectacle.

Khan has shown, yet again, that he is a master of fusion and movement. He manages to surprise the audience again and again with his beautiful creations of music and dance that encompass the entire spectrum of contemporary and Khatak dance. The audience is left with a piece that has given them a rapid heartbeat, or just let them relax and watch the beauty of a duet unfold on stage. Either way, it is a good thing Kaash has been revived and is gracing the stage yet again.

Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Rosebery Ave, London, UK, +44 20 7863 8000