Warriors, dust and spirituality: ‘Vertical Road’ (Akram Khan)
Whenever a choreographer turns the volume of his music up, I get suspicious. Because I know he desperately wants to entrance me. And I take a step backwards instead of letting myself get carried away. Which is exactly what happened during Vertical road, by Akram Khan at deSingel (Antwerp). (And don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of Nitin Sawhney, who composed the soundtrack for this choreography.) What I want to say is this: in spite of his good intentions, his artistry and the sheer beauty of his performance, it’s too bad when a choreographer wants to force his aesthetics upon you. Vertical road will return to Belgium, next year, for performances in Turnhout, Brugge and Gent.
‘We should dance more and talk less.’ It’s difficult not to like Akram Khan, who’s not afraid of admitting that he grew up watching Michael Jackson. He worked with Juliette Binoche (in-i) Kylie Minogue (Showgirl-tour) and he even came up with a choreography for Mélanie Thierry for the new commercial for Belle d’Opium, a new fragrance by Yves Saint Laurent (clip here). He is the recipient of the 2011 Distinguished Artist Award of the International Society for the Performing Arts.
For Vertical Road (which premiered in Leicester, September 16), Khan wanted to do something with spirituality, and as spirituality can be so vague, he opted for the title Vertical Road to make it more concrete. ‘We as human beings are moving very horizontally’, Khan says. So in Vertical road he goes for the vertical/spiritual element. ‘Our hope lies in the idea that you get up every time you fall. It’s human nature to keep going, so Vertical Road is very much about faith. About keeping faith in ourselves.’
Vertical Road is, in several ways, absolutely gorgeous. The dancers are wearing white tunics saturated with powder, which means that you see clouds of dust flying up, when they move around as warriors on that empty stage, in those often pale, mysterious lights. The performance draws inspiration from the Sufi tradition and often you see that group of dancers spinning like dervishes. Khan’s choreography is a feast for the eye, combining exotic influences and contemporary dance. You just have to admire that group of dancers, skilfully mixing the sensual and the athletic. Seven of them are often dancing in unison, and then there’s one outsider. Sometimes he fits in, sometimes he doesn’t.
But the point I was trying to make in the beginning is this: for a performance about spirituality, it’s strange that Khan almost forgets to breath out. It’s a performance that’s permeated with the characteristics of today’s world. It’s too loud, trying too hard to be too beautiful, too powerful, too perfect. It desperately wants to get under your skin. It’s screaming too loudly: like me!
Next Benelux dates for ‘Vertical Road’: Amsterdam (26 January), Turnhout (29 January), Tilburg (1 February), Groningen (3 February), Brugge (8 February), Gent (7, 8, 9, 10, 11 June). Info and links here. Rehearsal interviews and clips here.