Sylvie Guillem lay breathless on the floor after her solo... Hour-long performances can be ever so demanding for two dancers. But she slowly rose, walked stage right, wrapped a towel around her shoulders, sprawled on the floor and drank from a bottle of water, as Akram Khan stepped forward to dance. This seeming rupture of stage decorum is in fact representative of the traditional performance practises that take place in India or in Spanish flamenco tablaes. It displays, for all to witness, the recuperation period necessaryafter the intensity of dance. Guillem says: " The 'place' where I perform, whatever style I perform, feels very strongly like a 'sacred' place. The stage...a monster... my sacred monster".

Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem in <i> Sacred Monsters</i> © Mikki Kunttu
Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem in Sacred Monsters
© Mikki Kunttu
Akram Khan finds spirituality in the classic forms of Indian dance, with their intrinsic links to religion and to myth. In Sacred Monsters, he performs a kathak solo (ch: Sharma Tripathe) which was both stunning visually and almost bewildering rhythmically. If incense had been wafting in the air, three senses would have been fully engaged in one dance. When Khan wished to portray Krishna, a rebellious and questioning Hindu god, he realized that he did not have enough hair; he was in fact balding. He had no alternative but to abandon Krishna as his model and to seek out his own internal monster.

Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoul, has said, 'What I can't say, I will dance; What I can't dance, I will sing; What I can't sing, I will tell you'. And so Sacred Monsters fuses dance, song and tale. The musicians sit onstage and emerse us in their hypnotic sounds: Laura Anstee on the cello; Coordit Linke on percussion; Faheem Mazhar – the male vocal; Alies Sluiter on the violin; and Juliette Van Penteghem, a haunting voice.  

Guillem's telling was about 'Sally', 'Charlie Brown' 's little sister, who burst into tears at the thought that someday she must grow up. In this dance choreographed by Lin Hwai--Min, Guillem, who spoke in Italian and French, as well as English, described this state as ' emerveillement'.  But how did Khan's baldness and Charlie Brown's sister come into it? Did such particular speech disturb some private, inner world, as did Proust's bite of a moist madeleine?

Aside from their solos, the evening comprised of duets for Guillem and Khan. In these the artists experimented with repetition, an element of ritual, and danced until the self was forgotten in the exuberance of movement. As in Indian classical dance, the arms often carried much of the feeling, talking to us without necessarily aligning themselves with the footwork. Guillem's arms, hands and fingers especially, were delicate and communicative.

Khan's choreography demanded of Guillem mastery of phrasing and accent. Sometimes the two performers were physically attached to one another through their arms, as if bound together.

Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem in <i>Sacred Monsters</i> © Tristram Kenton
Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem in Sacred Monsters
© Tristram Kenton
In what I would call a pas de deux rather than a duet, Guillem was suspended like a cantilevered form from Khan's hips. The long, flowing lines of Guillem's body, as it whirled and bent and opened outward, added roundness and air and escape from classical verticality. The dancing involved concentrated energy and focus and I felt that there was a journey of the dancers' souls from the sacred, to the monster, to the unknown.

Jonathan Bate, a Shakesperean scholar, has noted that the monster Caliban in Shakespeare's The Tempest , paradoxically, speaks its most sensitive lines: 'Pray you, tread softly, that the blind mole may not hear a footfall'. Caliban is immediately conspirator and naturalist; he knows pig-nuts, scammels and marmosets. Bate underlines that "Caliban is at once the lowest and the highest human, the rebel and the man with music in his soul'. Sacred Monsters may always be a work-in-progress,subject tpo o natural evolution. It was full of ideas, but needs a unifying vision and possibly a destination. The parts formed a treasure- trove of  multi-coloured threads, waiting to be woven into a tapestry.

It must receive the highest accolade for what has been achieved so far.

*****