“Rising” by Aakash Odedra

at Warwick Arts Centre, Friday 14th June 2013

Aakash Odedra’s Rising is made up of four completely separate solo dance pieces choreographed by four different practitioners which, though they make up a satisfying whole, ought to be considered separately. Though they all feature powerful lighting designs, emotive music and varying levels of engagement with Odedra’s background in Kathak, they each raise important questions as stand-alone pieces.

Nritta – Choreographed by Aakash Odedra

A contemporary take on classical Kathak, ‘Nritta’ has a semi-epic feel within the small space, as Odedra moves around with stunning fluidity. Limbs take on their own personas and seem to move entirely independently of the rest of the body, but they still all come together for moments of calm. Sometimes, it feels like there are other invisible people within the space to which the dance is struggling to reach out, but ultimately Odedra starts and finishes alone and praying in front of a searing light. Kathak seems to me to be both beautifully lyrical and crushingly violent, with the complexity of upper body movement contrasting brutally with the perpetual stamping of feet, stamping out a rhythm which may not even be there. What ‘Nritta’ does is set us up for the rest of the evening, as the semi-formalism of this take on Kathak is slowly eroded and Odedra becomes subsumed by the environment around him in later pieces.

In The Shadow Of Man – Choreographed by Akram Khan

At the beginning of this piece, a semi-naked, breathless figure heaves under a pulsing orange light. Slowly, it comes into focus but it’s still difficult to work out exactly how it’s contorted, as shifting shoulder blades look like grasping hands and the absence of arms puts us in mind of a chicken ready to be cooked. Slowly, like Frankenstein, he begins to teach himself how to move, emitting screams of pain and thumps of anger until he achieves the ability to travel freely. What’s extraordinary about this piece is its ability to create a narrative of struggle in the space of ten minutes, as the figure moves from pathetic and helpless to powerful and sturdy and back again. And though Khan suggests that this is a piece about humans as animals and vice versa, it seems to me to speak more about the slave trade, with the low glow of the lights and thumping music putting me in mind of Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape, considering not our connection with nature per se but the way in which humans have the terrifying capacity to turn each other into monsters.

CUT – Choreographed by Russell Maliphant

Here, after a short interval, Odedra takes us down a slightly more conceptual route as we encounter a piece which uses lighting to create a kind of dance around the one physically presented. Michael Hulls’ design consists of little more than a succession of thin, blueish shafts of light streaming through the haze, meaning the spinning and gliding extremities of Odedra’s body become the only things which are visible. For the first section, three lights appear in a horizontal line across the width of the stage, the body falling in and out of view as the shafts capture moments like photographs. Then, suddenly, about a dozen lights create a passageway running to the back of the stage, like moonlight is piercing through prison bars. The tone, however, is one of freedom, as Andy Cowton’s fast, rhythmic music puts us in mind of a steam train hurtling towards a new world, the flickering lights above making it look like Odedra is moving farther through space than he really is. An oppressive design thus takes on liberating meaning and the figure which was once glimpsed with a manic expression is now allowed freedom to roam.

Constellation – Choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

First up, ‘Constellation’ – running at about ten minutes – is one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced in a theatre. It’s no wonder this piece is left until last, as it left me both completely devastated and filled with verve. It begins with Odedra walking around the space, touching and swinging hanging lightbulbs as they begin to let off a low glow. Some bulbs swing in from nowhere and they even seem to dance independently, the world of this mini-cosmos becoming capable of action. After a spiritual, private dance to the tune of Olga Wojcieowska’s gentle piano score, he takes a bulb and pulls it, spinning it and gesturing towards other bulbs to turn them off as their light transfers to his until it is the only source of light, a piercing white giant in a blanket of dead stars. Then we get an excruciating, gasp-inducing moment as every bulb flashes bright white before an impenetrable darkness. The simplicity of the idea working alongside the complexity of Willy Cessa’s lighting design is what works so well in ‘Constellation’, as the lights perform a dance of their own and Odedra tries to tame them even though their extraordinary energy ends up overpowering him. It’s also the closest I think I’ve ever come to experiencing the sublime – in its purest sense – in a theatrical space, as my emotions seemed so completely disconnected from what I was thinking and it became hard to consider just why I found myself very near to breaking down at the end. Stunning.

*I’ve included some hyperlinks to excerpts of the dances, which give you an idea of what they’re doing but don’t nearly convey the beauty of Odedra’s work. It’s on in Edinburgh for a bit I think. Go and see it*

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