Akram Khan blends contemporary dance with the quick rhythms of kathak, a classical form from northern India. This weekend, his company brings “Kaash,” designed by renowned artist Anish Kapoor to Meany Hall.
London-born choreographer Akram Khan has built an international reputation for his unique combination of contemporary dance and the classical Indian kathak style he learned as a child. In the 55-minute “Kaash,” which Khan created in 2002 and re-imagined in 2014, the melding of the two forms is seamless, enabling each one to enhance the power of the other.
The kathak elements are sprinkled throughout “Kaash,” which means “if” in Hindi. As in kathak itself, the work is divided into sections. Many of them feature quick, thudding footwork, the intricate use of hands and an original score infused with “bols,” percussive vocal sounds made with teeth and tongue that mimic the rhythms of tabla drums.
But it’s not necessary to know anything about kathak to appreciate the dramatic effect of “Kaash,” which begins while the house lights are still up, as a bare-chested male dancer (the sinewy Sung Hoon Kim) appears on the dimly lit stage, his back to the audience. Standing statuelike for several minutes, he faces a huge painting by Anish Kapoor of a large black rectangle surrounded by a lighter gray aura.
Akram Khan Company: “Kaash”
Repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 14), Meany Hall, University of Washington, Seattle; tickets from $43-$48 (206-543-4880 or uwworldseries.org).
Suddenly, the mood changes. Four dancers — Kristina Alleyne, Sadé Alleyne, Nicola Monaco, Sarah Cernaux — enter and begin to move frenetically, hurtling themselves into such complex movements it’s hard to keep up with their rapid-fire, ever-changing patterns. After 25 minutes, we’re exhausted — and, just as we feel we cannot take any more of the frenzy, Khan changes gears. The next sequence is slow and for the remainder of the piece, “Kaash” alternates between meditative quiet and feverish intensity, ending with a spellbinding solo by Kim, again with his back to the audience, extending his arms in all directions as the stage slowly darkens.
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Perhaps even more compelling than Khan’s choreography is the overall production design by Kapoor, a sculptor who collaborated with Khan for “Kaash.” Kapoor’s backdrop dominates the stage and our visual field; under Aideen Malone’s lighting, it looks ominous or cheerful, depending on the coloration Malone gives the background.
The backdrop is such an overwhelming presence, at times it seems as if we’re watching a kinetic-art installation in which the dancers are just one, albeit essential, component.
Nitin Sawhney’s score is an equally important element. Sometimes cataclysmic, sometimes lyrical, the recorded score uses Indian tablas to create a bed of percussive sound that propels the movement forward.
Khan has said that he, Kapoor and Sawhney worked so closely together on “Kaash” that it was impossible to differentiate between director, composer and set designer. The success of their remarkable collaboration shows in this exquisite, gripping dance.