[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/71642?ns=guardian&pageName=Gnosis+%7C+Dance+review%3AArticle%3A1306436&ch=Stage&c3=Guardian&c4=Dance%2CStage%2CFestivals+%28Culture%29%2CCulture+section&c6=Judith+Mackrell&c7=09-Nov-17&c8=1306436&c9=Article&c10=Review&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2FDance[/img]Sadler's Wells, London
Dancers may talk through their bodies, but, as Akram Khan had to announce on Monday, sometimes their bodies "talk back". A recent accident on stage had left him with a hairline fracture of the shoulder. As a result, Khan had been unable to complete the new work scheduled to launch Svapnagata, the two-week festival of Indian dance and music, curated by Nitin Sawhney and himself.
However, injury didn't stop Khan dancing the classical Kathak material that was always going to accompany the new piece. Nor did it get in the way of his mastery of the form.
Khan is now 35, and inevitably his dancing has got less startling with age. The hurtling power of his body, harnessed to an eerie control and grace – is no longer that of a prodigy. But in his opening solo, a revival of Gauri Sharma Tripathi's Polaroid Feet, Khan compensated with a performance of riveting eloquence. The play of his arms was beautiful: sharply delineated angles and dreamy spirals, dovetailing with vivid snapshots of mime, drawing us into the narrative that seemed to spool through Khan's imagination as he danced.
Tarana, a short piece by Sri Pratap Pawar, felt more like a parsing of technical effects, showcasing the percussive intricacies of Khan's footwork and the blurring speed of his turns.
In the improvised section, Khan and the musicians bounced material around, dividing metrical cycles into ever more sophisticated variations of rhythm and tone. Manjunath B Chandramouli was a demon on the mridangam drum. And Khan matched him for invention in a section that focused purely on his ankle bells: his strong, spatula-shaped feet delicately treading the floor to produce cascades and shimmers of sound.
The band for the programme mixed classical Indian instruments with a cello and Japanese taiko drums, and they came into expressive focus in the closing section, which offered a taster of the deferred new work, Gnosis. The solo takes its inspiration from a character in the Mahabharata, a queen who blindfolds herself to share the life of her blind king. It ends with her death by fire, and dancing it, Khan is transformed: all his the powerful, elastic grace is contracted into jerky marionette moves, while his expression becomes blank and sightless. It's a touching evocation of powerless old age, but it becomes searing as the unseen fire starts to consume the queen. In the fearful, ecstatic juddering of his body, Khan simultaneously mimics the leaping savagery of the flames and Gandhari's agony. And he reminds us again that he is not only a superb dancer but also a choreographer of a rare, narrative vision.
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Guardian: Gnosis | Dance review
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