Saturday, April 16, 2005

Twists and turns

We spent the afternoon in Soho, eating a scrumptious falafel sandwich in wholemeal pitta bread, with salad and chips at the Maoz cafe on Old Compton Street. Then we wandered over to the heavenly-aromatic Algerian Coffee Store across the road to buy some coffee and violet-flavoured candy. This store has a long presence in Soho -- opened in 1887 by one Mr Hassan. It now sells over 60 different types of coffee beans -- raw and roasted. The scent from my bag followed us all over Soho for the rest of the afternoon.

After mojitos at the Alphabet Bar, we crossed the river to the Purcel Room to watch the dazzling young dancer Akram Khan perform a series of epic Hindu mythologies to Kathak -- an ancient Indian classical dance form. Stories included that of the reluctant warrior Arjuna -- so powerful a marksman that he can hit the eye of a revolving fish -- who is persuaded into battle by Lord Krishna; and Arjuna's son Abhimanya, who learned the ways of war inside the womb.

Khan dances with such exhilerating fluency. Tonight, his mercurial body spun across the stage and his quicksilver arms shattered the air into a thousand shards. There were moments when his body practically levitated with an intense series of vibrations that went from his head to his toes. Yet Kathak is a very linear, precise, methodical dance form and at no point did Kahn lose control. His agility was taut and composed.

I've only ever seen Khan as part of a larger ensemble, when he performed Ma here last year. So I was unsure whether he alone would be able to command all my attention. I needn't have worried. Khan has enough physical magnetism to fill a stage several times over. The Independent once summed up Khan's appeal perfectly: "Khan has more charisma than a fistful of veteran star performers. When he transfixes you with his kohl-rimmed eyes, you feel he could charm a whole pitful of snakes."

And actually, he wasn't alone. His live band included sitar, tabla, mridanga and cello as well as the haunting and sublime Sufi vocals of Faheem Mazhar, who once performed suspended upside down on stage for Khan. Their musicianship was so spectacular that they frequently stole the show.

Related links:

+ "Everything in Indian music works mathematically and is very logical. Once that's understood, the music can be appreciated in a different way, and you can start playing around with the rules. There's a lot of improvisation, and the complex patterns we work from are more simple than they look." Akram Khan speaking to Culture Kiosque (Reg. req.)

+ The mathematical precision of Kathak

No comments: