Echoes & I Imagine – British Theatre Guide – Review

Aditi Mangaldas (Echoes) and Aakash Odedra and Sabrina Mahfouz (I Imagine)
Aakash Odedra Company
Curve Theatre, Leicester
From 09 October 2015 to 10 October 2015
Review by Sally Jack

New work by award-winning Aakash Odedra always generates a flurry of excitement and expectation, such is his reputation for stunning, innovative dance. A coup for Curve then as it hosts the world première of its associate artist’s two newest pieces, Echoes and I Imagine.

In Echoes, Odedra returns to his roots in kathak, a traditional classical Indian dance (where kathak translates as ’storyteller’). Under ropes of golden bells cascading from the ceiling, stage left as well as snaking across the stage, Odedra responds and reacts to these traditional bells in an intriguing representation of the form.

Appearing in a conical shaft of golden light, Odedra swirls ghungroos (the traditional bells usually wrapped around dancers’ ankles) within the confines of the light beam and to Shubha Mudgal’s plaintive song.

Odedra is at times a whirling dervish, maybe not such an incongruous choice of words given kathak has absorbed and influenced the dance forms of other cultures over the centuries.

This piece is not just about spins—integral as they are to the dance form—but a reflection on awakening and challenges to tradition. With complex rhythmic patterns stamped out with his feet and sometimes hands (echoes of flamenco’s roots) together with expressive and sensual hand movements, the phrasing of the dance allowed moments of high energy and calm, light and shade.

One small point is several parts of the dance took place downstage right with Odedra seated or prostrate, obscuring sightlines for a large proportion of the audience.

Odedra is a graceful, expressive dancer, slight yet strong and this, combined with Aditi Mangaldas’s inventive choreography, Fabiana Piccioli’s golden light beams, the stirring rhythms and the shimmer as Odedra played the bell ropes is a mesmerising experience.

After a short interval, the stage is re-set for I Imagine, a collaboration with another award-winning writer and spoken word performer, Sabrina Mahfouz. It would be wrong to let slip a spoiler for the Houdini-like start to this piece; suffice to say it took the whole audience by surprise.

Using various sized-suitcases and three masks, Odedra again tells a story. Aided by Mahfouz’s poetry played on an audio track or sometimes said by Odedra, he manages to be both playful and poignant as he characterises the experiences of those who find they must leave their home, often with no more than one suitcase. In one particularly clever sequence, the hopes and aspirations of first, second and third generation migrants are portrayed through minimal but expert physical theatre and voice.

Odedra takes us on many journeys here, creating escape tunnels and busy streets simply through clever use of a few suitcases. The sequence portraying imprisonment and enslavement using only his t-shirt and trousers was stunning and almost too uncomfortable to watch.

In these troubled times of mass movement of people, this is a particularly affecting and apt piece. “Home is where the hope is,” was a repeated refrain along with: “for us, when it rains at home it means something, it has purpose. Here it is monotonous and grey.” Both get straight to the heart of I Imagine: what does it mean to an individual, a culture to move? And how do the communities receiving these migrants react?

Answers are not provided here; this is a piece to stimulate thought as well as marvel at what this dancer, poet and production have achieved.

Review: World Exclusive Premieres Of Aakash Odedra’s Echoes And I Imagine At Curve, Leicester.

Posted on October 12, 2015
By The Version

At the end of an Indian summer, it was a real treat to be invited along to the Curve Theatre in Leicester for the world premiere of Aakash Odedra’s new show, Echoes and I Imagine.

Aakash Odedra is widely regarded as a rising star, and is part of an exciting new generation of British dancers/choreographers, having been mentored by top artists including Akram Khan. He was born in Birmingham and trained in classical Indian dance styles of Kathak and Bharat Natyam, which he infuses with contemporary styles in his dance and choreography.

The full range of Aakash’s dancing abilities are on show for Echoes, an energetic piece of Kathak dance, choreographed by icon Aditi Mangaldas, that explores relationships with our ancestors. It starts with Aakash in the far left of the stage, whirling ghunghru (small bells tied to string – you can see these at the start of the trailer on youtube) around his body. In the stage setting, further ghunghru are strewn across the floor and hung from the ceiling in the far right. As the piece evolves, Aakash collects in the strewn ghunghru, clearing space on the floor where he then dazzles us with his Kathak dance, which combines elegant hand and arm movement with rhythmic footwork and tapping. Traditional music accompanies the piece, embellishing the experience and immersing the audience in Indian culture.

A short interval allowed us to enjoy a drop of wine courtesy of the Curve whilst discussing our interpretations of Echoes, and gave Aakash a well-earned chance to catch his breath. After the interval, came I Imagine, a self-choreographed piece that was in stark contrast to Echoes, being far more contemporary and performed to spoken word by Sabrina Mahfouz. It tells the story of three characters and their experience of migration, in a symbolic way where the stage is setup with three collections of suitcases. Aakash transitions between the three characters by the use of his body, combined with entertaining impersonations and the use of exaggerated masks.

Whereas the first piece was quite open to interpretation, the second piece is a poignant and provocative look at migration, from the perspective of the migrant. Both pieces were entertaining, yet they challenged the audience to look beyond the performance, and ultimately left us wanting to see more from the talented Aakash Odedra.

Watch Echoes the Trailer

Echoes and I Imagine at Curve – Review

Review || Echoes and I Imagine at Curve
Posted on The Grade By Laura Roe

One body on a stage and hundreds fall still, that body being the Kathak performer Aakash Odedra moving with the minds of Aditi Mangaldas (Echoes) and Sabrina Mahfouz (I Imagine). The double bill of Odedra took us from roots to relocations, inviting us to indulge the stories of past and present through traditional and contemporary dance.

A grey mist suspended above the audience within the large dark catacomb of the studio, the stage contoured with streams of gold lace and ghungroos, which hung down through the mist and channel along the ground. A sense of genesis embraces the space, taking us back to the foundations of which we all speculate, regardless of our origin. Echoes explored ancestry and its awakening within the contemporary body through traditional Kathak dance.

The symbolism of the ghungroo bells was the focus of the performance, representing a constant presence of tradition, which perhaps stands dormant within today’s generation. The piece transits from responding to the lyrical soundscape, collaborating with the sound and embodying the bells; the latter being the most captivating. The majority of the performance was scored with ethereal music that moved back and forth from instrumental to lyrical. However, the most poignant was the silence in the embodiment section.

Halfway through the piece, Odedra tied ghungroos to his ankles and started to create his own sound scape. This was a refreshing personal exploration and a pinnacle point in becoming one with his heritage. We could for the first time watch Odedra move to his own beat and clarify the ‘metaphor of resonance, of freedom and of awakening’. This section was brief and soon lost as it bled back into the relentless soundscape. However, Echoes was an fervent performance which depicted the resonance between a body and its origins.

With the stage littered in suitcases the subject matter of I Imagine was evident before the lights went down. The piece combined physical theatre, spoken word and contemporary dance to communicate today’s deliberation of migration.

The performance was comical yet profound as we were introduced to three generations of personal reflection on migration. Odedra’s somewhat Brechtian approach to storytelling was supplemented though the work of David Poznanter, who created masks for the three characters (third generation: adolescence female, second generation: middle aged man and first generation: old man). Odedra was accompanied by the voice of Sabrina Mahfouz, a spoken word artist who interluded throughout the performance, which sometimes got lost within the action onstage.

The set was crafted by the manipulation of props and Odedra’s rapid acceleration of physicality lead to a mesmerising movement sequence midway throughout he performance. As his clothing constrained and manipulated his movement, the raw and depleted topic of migration was incapsulated in Odedra’s choreography. The physical self struggle within the section reflected the diversity and detachment between the generations of migrants and the confusion between ancestry and the present. I Imagine is an explorative piece with spectacle as well as substance, producing a performance in which to indulge.

Odedra’s ability to captivate his audience through the austerity and entirety of his performances produces art with unique substance and style, which should be experienced time and time again.

“Echoes & I Imagine” World Premiere at Curve – Review

Echoes and I Imagine – World Premiere – Curve

Posted on 10th Oct 2015
By Trevor Locke

Our rating: *****

The solo dance performance of Aakash Odedra tonight was sensational. I have not seen male dance of this calibre since I last saw Rudolf Nureyev in the 1970s. Odedra’s first piece was a stunning performance based on the Indian classical dance genre Kathak. Dancing to the choreography of Aditi Mangaldas, Odedra demonstrated the sublime artistry of his abilities, with movements that had razor-sharp timing, perfectly synchronised with the music. The work opened with with gloriously evocative sounds creating a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere, heightened by the lighting and the floor of the stage being spread with long filaments of golden threads studies with tiny bells, laid out to look like the ripples of a lake.

The piece drew on the image and symbol of bells, which hung from the top of the stage in clusters of long strings. As the programme notes explained ‘The resonance of the bells awaken us to the now. A breath and senses awakens. LIFE awakens me.’ The Kathak dance form is story-telling in motion. The elaborate footwork, enhanced by bells, attached to the ankles, was characteristic of the dance form; Odedra pulled down two of the long strands of bells and wound them around his ankles before proceeding to display amazing footwork, in his bare feet. In something that Western audiences would recognise as tap dancing, he also used his feet as percussion instruments, drumming on the stage, producing sequences of intricate rhythms. Echoes is a work that plays with the idea of bells, their tradition in classical dance, their ritualistic significance and their potential as a metaphor for freedom and awakening.

The piece also included many of the spinning movements – the chakkars – so characteristic of classical Kathak. What Mangaldas has done is to bring the ancient art form into the 21st century without losing any of its resonance and vibrancy. Some of Odedra’s spins were like those of an ice skater; he has a fluidity of movement that is remarkable but he combined this with dynamics that are amazing. All the time we watch those extraordinarily impressive hand movements, the fingers that wave and flutter like the wings of a bird. It was like seeing dance from another planet; something that moves forward what we understand about solo dance. Utterly enthralling and spellbinding throughout.

Echoes celebrated the form of classical Kathak, but the second piece – I Imagine – brought a totally new approach and direction to the stage. In it, Odedra demonstrated his sense of humour, his consummate capacity for entertaining his audience. It was another demonstration of his story-telling powers, using mime, antics and even spoken word to engage us in a meditation on the theme of travel and migration (very topical.) Odedra came on to a stage stacked with suitcases – like the bells, another evocative metaphor. This piece used a variety of masks to signify characters, not unlike those used by actors in classical Greek drama, I thought. At the beginning of the piece, one of the larger suitcases begins to move and Odedra emerges from it, foot by foot, leg by leg, rather like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. It reminded me of Ernest being found in a handbag. The story goes on to depict arriving in a new country, migration to a new and alien culture, the feelings evoking loss of homeland, leaving behind the ones that are loved, the challenges of accommodating a new style of life. And then Odedra does something totally innovative for a dancer – he engaged in a spoken monologue in which he used surprising skills of characterisation, speaking in accents to bring his characters to life, much to the amusement of the audience. It was a sequence that bore similarities to stand-up comedy, recollecting the Kumars, I thought. Towards the end of the piece, Odedra walked across the top of a line of suitcases, having used them beforehand to make an armchair and a house. It was a gleeful deployment of the props and one that took us a long way from the previous classical dance routines.

I Imagine included spoken word by the celebrated Sabrina Mahfouz, the British Egyptian poet, playwright and performer who was born in South London. Odedra’s collaboration with the award-winning Mahfouz created a work that was supremely one of theatre, one that gave us dance, drama, comedy and gymnastics. It reminded me of my previous experience at Curve when I saw Bromance, the production by the Barley Methodical Troupe that created a new genre of dance and gymnastics. Odedra commissioned the masks used in this production from circus practitioner David Poznanter (it must have been the association of circus that conjured the idea of the work by the Barley Methodical Troupe in my mind.)

Tonight’s World Premier of Echoes and I Imagine crowns the previous appearance made by Odedra at Curve, including Inked and Murmer in 2014.

Speaking after the performance, Odedra paid tribute to his teacher, the internationally renown Kathak dancer Nilema Devi MBE.

Aakash was commissioned by Curve Theatre in Leicester to choreograph a piece for the opening of the theatre in November 2008. This piece, called “Flight” was the only one invited to perform for HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh on their visit in December 2008 [Facebook]

Aakash Odedra was raised in Leicester and his company is based here.

Curve has over the years given us so much that is new and exciting in the arts and tonight was no exception.

Echoes & I Imagine – The Lowry, Salford – Review

Aakash Odedra Company: Echoes & I Imagine – The Lowry, Salford
Posted on 16th February 2016
By The Reviews Hub – North West

Choreography: Aditi Mangaldas, Aakash Odedra
Music: Shubha Mudgal & Aneesh Pradhan, Nicki Wells
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Following on from his successful first double bill Murmur and Inked, Aakash Odedra presents the world premiere of a new double bill – Echoes and I Imagine. Aakash Odedra is one of the leading British Kathak dancers and dance creators, who, like Akram Khan, who has mentored him, is taking this style of classical Indian dance – which incorporates storytelling, movement and mine – blending it with rich threads of contemporary dance to create a hybrid form that acknowledges tradition and creates modern dance theatre appealing and accessible to a wider audience.
Echoes is the more ‘traditional’ of the two: created with renowned Kathak dance and choreographer Aditi Mangaldas. Echoes draws on thematic ideas of bells – a constant presence for Kathak dancers – and the interconnectedness between tradition and ritual – and how this relates to modernity and personal freedom. Echoes is strikingly and beautifully lit by Fabiana Piccioli, who creates a golden stage drenched in haze and shadow and filtered sunlight. A shower of golden rope bells creates further visual interest and sound, responding to Odedra’s slightest touch. The traditional music and song by Shubha Mudgal and Aneesh Pradhan is pleasingly loud and crystal clear, which creates a sense of excitement and presence. The choreography sees Odedra make full use of the stage with expansive and thoughtful sections of mime and effortlessly-fast twisting and twirling dance, broken by long moments of stillness. Echoes is exotic and evocative, visually and theatrically lavish with an appealing austere spirituality.
I Imagine, created and choreographed by Odedra – with text from spoken word artist Sabrina Mahfouz – is less-‘traditional’ and more dance theatre in nature. Again effectively lit by Piccioli, this piece utilises finely-crafted crafted character masks by David Poznanter and mounds of luggage – flight labels fluttering – and spoken text, to construct and explore narratives of migration – considering issues of fear, reluctance, intolerance, assimilation and nostalgia for home. This is fine-tuned by the new lens of the current migration crisis, where some second- and third-generation communities are perhaps unwelcoming to new migrants facing what they once faced and overcame. Characterised by thoughtful stillness with sections of considered and sometimes vigorous movement, I Imagine is perhaps slightly undermined by the absence of the rich dance content that made Echoes so appealing. Good use is made of humour and mime and staging though, and the audience are offered some clear perspectives and small narratives without the work becoming polemical or didactic: it is instead questioning and thoughtful.
Aakash Odedra continues to produce interesting, intriguing and accessible work that is meaningfully exploring the theatrical potential of Kathak as a style of contemporary dance that remains fully-mindful of its traditional roots. Hopefully his young company will continue to grow and collaborate with contemporary and traditional creative practitioners and he may yet give the almighty Akram Khan a run for his money.
Reviewed on 16 February 2016