The opening of Akram Khan’s Kaash is as high-impact a dance as you are likely to see. The backcloth, by Anish Kapoor, is a vast black rectangle shadowed with feathery grey that dominates the stage. Nitin Sawhney’s reverberating drumbeats crash upon your ears. Centre stage, a lone figure (Inn Pang Ooi) stands with his back to the audience. He remains stock-still as the other four dancers lunge from the wings, arms scything the air or flickering about their bodies like flames. Their geometrical groupings splinter and overlap in hard-edged sequences. The scene is elemental, and the tension between sound, set and movement is palpable.
Kaash is the Hindi word for “if”, and is inspired by ideas of Hindu cosmology, cycles of creation and destruction echoed by dynamic tension that repeatedly builds and breaks. The piece is also underpinned by the cumulative rhythmic patterns of Indian classical music – a cryptic code that Khan explicitly demonstrates, counting and chanting to show how the beats tally with the movements.
As a choreographer, Khan is still marked – even burdened – by his excellence as a soloist.
Khan is a highly distinctive dancer who draws on his training in kathak and contemporary dance. As a choreographer, he’s still marked – even burdened – by his excellence as a soloist. In Kaash, the dancers are refractions of Khan’s riveting performing persona: superbly drilled and astonishingly agile, but lacking their own identities. Though individuals may be offset from the ensemble, their difference is dissipated as the choreography simply absorbs them back into the group patterns.
After a packed and lengthy international tour, Kaash has returned to London in tauter shape, though it is still too long. A relentlessly driven work, it can leave you feeling transported or bludgeoned; but never indifferent.