Premiered in 2002, Kaash was Akram Khan’s first full-length work and his first success with an ensemble piece. It received the Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Best Modern Choreography that year and was warmly welcomed by the audience, who found in Khan a talented emerging artist with a distinctive, vibrant choreographic voice. Khan is now a leading choreographer on the British dance scene and the revival of that first incursion into a full-length work provides the chance to assess how his craft has evolved. The piece has been generously reworked for a totally whole new cast of five, and not six, dancers, who have absorbed Khan’s steps and infused them with new embodied nuances.

© Louis Fernandez
© Louis Fernandez

Kaash contains many of the choreographic material that has become a staple of Khan’s style. It combines contemporary dance with Kathak and is dominated by short dance sequences with fast-paced steps, frequent spins and generous travelling across the stage. Much of the emphasis of the dance is placed in the dynamic and expressive use of limbs. Legs are frequently bent, propelling the body downwards and giving the dancing a grounded quality that anchors the movement firmly to the floor. Arms and hands are as expansive as expressive, regularly projecting shapes and energy patterns into the space. Since Kaash eschews the delineation of any narrative, the imagery moulded by the arms and hands possesses a suggestive abstract symbolism, inspired by Hindu mythology.

The music, composed by Nitin Sawhney in close collaboration with Khan, plays an important role in Kaash. It maintains the same aesthetic impulse of the choreography, making the interaction between music and dance one of the most exciting aspects of Kaash. Both music and dance have sequences of sounds and movements that are hypnotically repeated, giving the piece an air of cyclical recurrence, and both the score and the choreography reflect a similarly cool, unemotional atmosphere that is broken at intervals either by bursts of energy (accentuated by potent, piercing percussion) or by touches of warmth (conveyed by a whispering human voice in the music). It is in these moments of vigorous drums, percussive vocal sounds and soft murmurs when Kaash becomes livelier and more exciting.

© Louis Fernandez
© Louis Fernandez
Kaash is visually wrapped in an air of sobriety and elegance in both Anish Kapoor’s set design and in Kimie Nakano’s black costumes, with long, ample skirts for dancers of both sexes. The five dancers; Kristina Alleyne, Sadé Alleyne, Sarah Cerneaux, Sung Hoon Kim and Nicola Monaco, offered a technically brilliant performance. Their dancing was pristine, fast, precise, and they all projected a similar image, emotionally detached and committedly physical.