Confluence, by dancer Akram Khan and musician Nitin Sawhney, is neither a new piece nor an old one, but a remix of their past collaborations, re-presented in Fabiana Piccioli’s spare designs and backed by Nick Hillel’s digital video. The projections – mystic aphorisms about art and creation, cosmic visualisations of flows and forcefields – create the ambience of the cover art for a concept album; fragments of conversation between Khan and Sawhney likewise teeter between the profound and banal. But the rewards of Confluence lie not in its messages but in its base material: music and dance.
Sawhney plays guitar and keyboards, and his ensemble includes cello and violin as well as Indian flute, tabla and vocals; musical styles and textures mesh exquisitely. Khan matches Sawhney’s meticulousness and multiplicity: he combines mercurial flow with muscular punch, layers the flickering arms of classical kathak dance over the dynamic lunges of martial arts; or he simply bares the brilliance of his kathak technique. Khan, too, has a versatile ensemble; they join him for the splintering patterns of a group dance from Kaash (2003), or the rootless wanderings of Bahok, Khan’s collaboration with the National Ballet of China last year.
The theme of doubling keeps emerging – in the synchronised storytelling from 2005’s Zero Degrees, in the two dancers who meld into a single compound creature, and in the shadow dancing behind Khan’s own body. Even solos feel like duets, with music as partner rather than merely being an accompaniment. It is striking how Khan – like many composers but few dancers – can take a simple motif, stick with it, and make it riveting: a circle of Sufi spins turns into a tour de force; a liquid ripple through his hands becomes turbulent currents of motion.
Confluence is a piecemeal work, but strength comes from its finesse of phrasing, the exactitude of its performance. It’s the small details rather than the big concepts that make it magic.