This production of Kaash, performed by the Akram Khan Company, is a 2014 revival of the full-length piece that premiered 2002, which won Britain's Critics' Circle National Dance Award in that same year for Best Modern Choreography. Kaash, running just under an hour, is Akram Khan's first full-length company piece and draws interest for its blend of contemporary dance with Kathak, a classical Indian dance form in which Khan first trained as a dancer. It is also a fine collaboration with renowned composer Nitin Sawhney, for the score, and sculptor Anish Kapoor as set designer. Though the piece is strong enough to hold the stage as its own program, the contrast from one segment to the next made it seem fragmented.

Akram Khan's <i>Kaash</i> © Jean Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan's Kaash
© Jean Louis Fernandez
The piece opens dramatically with driving, rhythmic drum beats. Four dancers in a vertical row at stage left lunge and swing their arms athletically through a repeated phrase of martial arts quality, while dancer Sung Hoon Kim stands contrastingly still at stage right with his back to the audience. For the backdrop, Kapoor, known also for his bold use of colour and imposing sculptural installations, kept to a subtler tone and centered a wide black rectangle of blurry edges in the back of the proscenium, enclosed by a backlit frame of changing hues of gold and red. It created an uncanny depth behind the five dancers and complemented the commanding musical score.

Though the choreography has an evident structure, the dancers were free to express their own aesthetic, which imbued the piece with further depth. Kim is captivating – he danced the Kathak-inspired phrases with precision and clarity, and when given the stage for a contemporary-styled solo, he filled it with his own narrative. The sweep of Kim's long arms dramatized the choreography fluidly and effortlessly, and the articulation of his elbows, wrists and hands added an intricacy that created an intimate, lingering effect.

Many times, the choreography is initiated by arm movements with a specific gesture of down-turned wrists, hands gathered. This gesture took on a leading role in a solo danced by Nicola Monaco, which centered around the stage right area of Kim's stationary stance in the opening scene. Beginning with a patterned movement within Monaco's control, it quickly built its own momentum which Monaco was helplessly drawn to. His fine balance between resistance and submission told a convincing and interesting narrative in what might have otherwise been something too literal.

Akram Khan's <i>Kaash</i> © Jean Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan's Kaash
© Jean Louis Fernandez

The athletic physicality of twin sisters Kristina and Sadé Alleyne especially amplified the music's rhythmic beats, doubling in intensity when they paired in a duet. Sometimes they moved so swiftly, only the blur of their arms and one's braided ponytail were the visible trail of their movements. Their intensity may have overshadowed the other dancers had each not been equally strong in one's own aesthetic. Such diversity expressed individualistic possibilities within the common structure of the choreography.

Costumes by Kimie Nakano dressed the dancers in swirling shin-length skirts of black fabric that extended the momentum of dancers' movements. Below, they wore black pants; the men were bare-chested and the three women wore sleeveless black tops.

Though each segment was intriguing on its own, there seemed to be weak connection from one scene to the next. The fractured tone was further emphasized by a score that similarly jumped across sets of intense drum beats of one segment, to rhythmic counting of 'one to five' in another, and then to quieter, atmospheric tones. This fragmentation is the biggest fault in Kaash, as it interrupted the momentum of exploration built up within each segment.

Kaash is a Hindi word meaning “if only”, and it describes this piece which acknowledges a conceived structure, from which the individual dancers explore beyond.

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