Akram Khan Co., bahok

Written by:
David E. Moreno
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Akram Khan Company

Photo: Liu Yang

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, February 2010

Akram Khan’s distinctive choreography is a windstorm that strikes with sudden unpredictability and intensity.  It defies gravity like the free fall of a parachute jump, as dancers fling themselves through space, skid, tumble, and whirl. What adds to Khan’s unique style is its obvious, not so obvious origin in Kathak—street brawls, street dancing, gymnastics, and ballet.

bahok (sic) brings together eight dancers from eight different countries who are stranded in an international transit zone. Through random circumstance, they are trapped in an impersonal waiting room of wooden chairs and large imposing digital signboard that flippantly predicts their destiny – “Delayed,” “Rescheduled,” “Gate Closing.” In a limbo station for global youth, not knowing whom they will someday be, if they will ever make it, or if they have what it takes, they are forced, from impatient boredom and aggressive anxiety to communicate, to interact, to tell their stories and memories of where they came from.

Motivated by desperation or pretentious indifference, they attempt to talk to others with their bodies. Or, in native tongue, they talk to themselves, on their cell phones, or occasionally, to the one that does speak their language. To an implied immigration officer, they watch their earnest intentions to communicate lost in the translation as their individuality fades into the amorphous of a generic public. 

What bahok doesn’t lack is humor. There is plenty of playful wit in these swift graphic dance stories, casual humor strategically planned: a sleeping girl dragged and propped around like a rag doll by the guy she was sitting next to, a Chinese couple stereotypically posing for their camera, the smartass remarks of the digital signboard as it takes on the intelligence of the mastermind computer, Hal, from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

With more and more companies attempting collaborations between themselves and dance companies from other countries, this United Colors of Benetton approach in contemporary dance has become as fashionable as the global Italian fashion brand But few companies really make use of intercultural, interdisciplinary collaborations as successfully as  Akram Khan’s company, whose dancers from South Africa, Spain, South India, Korea, Taiwan, and Slovak Republic are fully allowed to contribute to the development of this piece and to look and sound different from one another. Their capacity and talent also varies, yet they are remarkably on the money for timing as an ensemble. 

The score by veteran movie and Cirque du Soleil composer, Nitin Sawhney, is played with industrial strength volume that perfectly amplifies the sheer force of this bahok. Its combination of Arabic and Japanese riff, soundscape, and silence is enough to make audiences look for the cd in the lobby and brings awareness to the lyrical digital sounds of the electronic signboard as it scrolls through numbers and letters before revealing its jackpot messages.

 Eulalia Ayguade Farro’s performance impressively leaps out in this creative spectacle. She is both striking dancer and actor, neurotically crumbling, fumbling, and referring to tiny notes on paper as if they were her only hope for connecting with others, or reaching her final destination. Few dance with such swift intensity—handless summersaults that propel her through space, or spin and roll her across the stage in record speeds. Yet, she dances with her crushed notes as if they were as fragile as a heart that should never hit the ground.


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