Photo by Richard Houghton
British choreographer Akram Khan’s latest dramatic contemporary dance piece, Vertical Road portrays a personal journey to faith as a graceful but violent experience. Egyptian dancer Salah El Brogy is the ‘traveller’ placed in a series of spectacular confrontations with warrior gods, beautiful and terrifying, that represent his inner conflict of emotions.
Khan’s parents were born in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and he trained from a young age in kathak, a classical north Indian dance form, in which protagonists take on the roles of mythological characters to enact moral stories. Mathematically precise and physically demanding, steps get progressively faster as they are spurred on by rhythmic chanting. Khan studied contemporary dance at university where he developed his own style that collated the two forms. Critically acclaimed as a solo dancer, he set up his own company 10 years ago.
While Khan’s dance pieces are contemplative and abstract in theory, they are power-driven and theatrical in practice. Though he does not dance in Vertical Road, the choreographer channels the focus and energy of kathak into it, winding in the more fluid contemporary dance “like a jazz musician”. The result is highly-controlled creativity, martial art-like. Once again he works with British composer Nitin Sawhney who blends Indian music with jazz and electronica.
As with previous works Ma (2004) and Zero Degrees (2005), both performed at the Mercat to standing ovations, Khan brings together dancers from different countries and with different forms of training. His aim is not fusion but “confusion” through this juxtaposition of dancers. Most of the eight dancers in Vertical Road, chosen specifically for the piece, come from Asia, Europe and the Middle East; Catalan Eulàlia Ayguadé is among them.