The ritual continues over 100 years later as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is yet again revived, though in an utterly novel way. Commissioned by Sadler’s Wells to recreate this iconic work for its centenary anniversary, Akram Khan went beyond the music for inspiration, delving deep into the mind and character of the composer himself. iTMoi, standing for “in the mind of Igor”, is Khan’s expression of The Rite of Spring through a study of its author and his recurring themes of ritual and sacrifice.

This marking Akram Khan’s fourth visit to Montreal, the company’s reputation preceded them, already generating a buzz before even the first note. The Théâtre Maisonneuve was packed on opening night, a mix of whispering fans familiar with Khan’s work from previous performances within the Danse Danse series and fresh, excited youth who’d arrived by the busload from dance and circus schools around the province. Just as the original Rite of Spring caused such a stir a whole century ago, iTMoi promised to shake things up with a whole new approach.

Ching- Ying Chien and Catherine Schaub Abkarian © Jean-Louis Fernandez
Ching- Ying Chien and Catherine Schaub Abkarian
© Jean-Louis Fernandez
A roaring voice fills the theatre. From the shadowy darkness, a preacher man emerges speaking the tale of Abraham and Isaac. Through his gurgles and cackles, and eerie, hard movements, it’s made clear that he is no God-sent messenger. He has a demonic quality, made only the more terrifying as he slips in and out of the pitch-blackness surrounding the thin rectangle of light he paces from end to end.

Committed theatricality is at the core of the performance's intrigue. Even the dance is rooted in stylised, inspired performance ( think krumping and buto ). The script deviates from that of the original Rite where a sacrified woman must dance until her death. We see women dancing toward dangerous ends, but men equally, acting out through their dancing, as they break away from the pack. An icy queen oversees the whole process, stiffened by her sculptural white gown. A horned demon lurks around the cursed stage.

The performance started so strong. The presence of the dancers was only amplified by the rich costumes and simple, but dramatic set. The music, containing only a snippet of the actual Rite of Spring, drove the whole with its pounding underlying rhythm. Contemporary composers Ben Frost, Nitin Sawhney and Jocelyn Pook each worked independently on their contributions to the score though and, in the end, it was disconcertingly unnatural. Repeated chimes of a grandfather clock and blares of an emergency siren led to more obscurity, rather than towards cohesion. Leading with a strong pace that drew the audience in – by literally doubling up our heart rate, iTMoi seemed to get lost in the conceptual, somewhere along the way, and forgets to pick the audience back up. Two heavy-hitting solos mix hip hop style with contemporary fluidity. Then, a flirtatious and vulnerable duo connects a petite – powerhouse of a – dancer with a breakdancer who knows how to work a hoop skirt. After the icy queen chooses her victim for the sacrifice though, the work seems to tumble down a slow, meandering path.

Akram Khan Dance Company in iTMoi © Jean-Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan Dance Company in iTMoi
© Jean-Louis Fernandez

What we can take from iTMoi are more than one beautiful tableau and a step inside a fantastical world where Man faces demons in tangible form. It isn’t often that a dance performance plunges its audience so fully into a fairy tale world, let alone such a dark one. The dancers are fierce, albeit somewhat let down by a choreography that loses its pace sometime after halfway. This reinvention is a new way of exploring the Rite, but it won’t be causing any riots in its wake.

***11