'I feel we live in a society that is evolving at great speed, and it is because of this momentum of shifting that we still call it a ‘contemporary society’. All traditions were once contemporary; it is just a matter of time when something is regarded as old or part of a tradition.'
With this introductory note in the programme Akram Khan unleashes a barrage of fidgety, energetic and inspiring dance moves onto the unsuspecting public in attendance at Sadlers' Wells to watch his latest choreographic work, Bahok.
A departure lounge is the setting for all the chaos that ensues. Amidst notices like ‘Delayed’ and ‘Rescheduled’, the performers (or would that be passengers?) map swiftly across the vast stage the main theme the piece addresses: globalised isolation.
Akram Khan has been here before. In his 2005 work ‘Zero Degrees’ which he performed alongside the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the target was identity and the lack of it thereof. His follow-up, ‘Sacred Monsters’, saw him breaking down barriers (literally) with the magnificent dancer Sylvie Guillem in the pursuit of a common language (and we are not thinking linguistics here). Bahok, on the other hard, combines guest artists from the National Ballet of China and performers from Spain, South Korea, Slovakia, India and South Africa. United Colours of Benetton? You bet. The result is a prism through which themes like intolerance, despair, bitterness, elation, hope and optimism are explored in both theatrical and danceable forms.
If we think of each performer on the night as a small entity in themselves and not just as yet another group of dancers, we arrive, then, at the conclusion that they are human crotchets, dissimilar parts of a bigger whimsical notion, one that becomes the final product: HOPE. This is the word that flashes up on the screen as the show wraps up and it is the word that leaves everyone in the auditorium clapping to the dancers’ dextrous versatility.
Akram Khan patterns the choreography in the same way a grammar teacher prepares a lesson. Whereas the former will go for up and slow tempos the latter will go for rising and falling intonation standards. Khan's is a piece full of the slithering interplay between performers, with some of them bickering with one another and others falling into freestyle ballet dance blithely. These pairings, of which there are various combinations, act like a dynamic device, speeding the piece up or slowing it down.
Ultimately it is Akram Khan’s mastery of the unsaid that works wonders. The piece does not seek to explain or tell why and how our ‘contemporary society’ became this way. Yet, Bahok implicates all of us, observant audience, in its doing.
In another part of the programme, Khan writes: ‘The stage is usually the place where I can reveal not only an image from my head, but also what I feel is missing or needed in the contemporary society around me, but somehow I believe it is not about me preaching to others of what is missing in their lives but mostly what is missing in my own… so the whole approach to my work is about acquiring new knowledge by reviewing the old knowledge that the new does not have.’
Wise words and ones that make me already look forward to his next piece.