19th March 2015
Auckland Arts Festival
Originally commissioned in 2013 for the centennial of composer Igor Stravinsky’s seminal Rite of Spring, Akram Khan’s iTmoi (In the Mind of Igor) reaches New Zealand’s theatrical shores a little inauspiciously in 2015. iTmoi is a collaborative work featuring devised materials contributed by the dancers and a sound score composed by Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook, and Ben Frost. Here Khan explores themes such as the birthing of an artistic work, dreams, sexuality, and madness.
Khan’s work arguably occupies the art-as-entertainment end of the performance spectrum but despite being a contemporary dance piece, iTmoi really does resemble a good old fashioned story ballet - period costumes, characters with funny hats and skirts, cavorting duets framed by onlookers, clownish loons, and a sociopathic royal in heavy make up.
Staged in often-diffuse lighting states with a music score offering beautifully timed sonic bombardments, the action was by turns blustering with sustained sequences of ragged military grade group unison, coy with the aforementioned cavorting duets, or maddeningly contained such as in a solo by Catherine Schaub Abkarian. The dancers movement palette in general looked like it was drawn from an eclectic range of influences including Indian Kathak, Slavic folkdance, floor work of a style resembling a Brussels cadre of contemporary dance moves, and butoh imagery.
Opening strongly with a memorable solo, a microphoned dancer making guttural rasping utterances and using rapid hand movements which peppered the dance like gestural emoticons, iTmoi quickly became lumpy in its timing. A duet featuring the black-skirted man seemed to hover its way into meaninglessness as it went on and ultimately lost its way. The dancers pushed at the athleticism with a combination of effortless physicality and dramatic intensity. Sometimes this in and of itself was fulfilling to watch. At other times Khan seemed to have deployed that dynamic so blithely that it became absurd. Such as in the sustained vision of hell scene where a man is tortured by dancers doing cross-fit with ropes under red lighting.
At times superficial elements actually got in the way of flow of the work. A large square frame suspended over the choreography for most of the show was suddenly lowered into an odd sequence of angles, clumsily transforming from itself a relatively utilitarian piece of scenography to a morose unfinished puppet of doubt.
Beautiful and absurd iTmoi became harder for me to appreciate as it went on. Yes there were strong ideas although those ideas were hung together oddly. When it worked it worked well. But iTmois somehow wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Ultimately the cast of dancers revealed a duality of status. In one respect they were gods, masters of movement and ceremony. In another vein they were also just incredibly hardworking underdogs performing feats of skilled labour. It’s hard to know what the audience is enthusiastically applauding when seen that way.
Nonetheless, my lasting impression is that Khan’s work revealed itself as an oddly shaped beast that was very much carried by the alacrity, hard work and physical proficiency of the dancers.