Murmur 2.0 / Inked, The Riverfront, Newport

October 20, 2016 by Jane Oriel

As we take our seats in the auditorium for Inked, the first of tonight’s two-dance programme, revealed in the dim light of the performance space is a single white silk drape, ceiling to floor, with the shape of a Gormley-ish man cut from it. Now in full darkness, unmistakably Kathak foot stamps can be heard, as the dancer’s own dark form appears through the shadow man, beating a growing foot rhythm that becomes a fluid locomotion that transports a seemingly static Aakash Odedra across the width of the stage on a beam of light.

Choreographed for Odedra by Damien Jalet, the now kneeling man in shirt and tied langot pants, begins to mark his arms with black ink characters. The shapes are deliberately formed. He then links hands and undulating from both shoulders, deceives the eye into believing his arms are boneless. The effect brings a ghoulishly fascination and I have to snap myself back into the room on more than one occasion to break away from it.

Now falling to sit in a solid lotus position, he’s like a street beggar, a double amputee as the legs (as they are) to the knee, perambulate the dancer around the stage in frustrated, stunted fashion. The programme says the inked decorations refer to Odedra’s grandmother who was symbolically, bodily marked in the service of protecting her family from damaging forces. Might her marks be powerful enough to protect the legs of a dancer?

A little later, Odedra kneels forward and removes his shirt. On wildly moving, gesturing shoulder blades are painted eyes. His hairy head could be a snout now, his forehead snuffling the ground. The gently humorous scene draws some ripples of laughter, which his shoulder-eyes glance towards, drawing a little more.

Then changing the mood, he throws his body forward and a stream of ink spews forth. The atmosphere shifts to calm and in a range of body extensions with his inked extremities as styli, he adds lavish ink marks both to himself and the white floor sheet. Atmospheric music by Loscil is sparingly used throughout, helping to change mood and direction as needed. At the conclusion, the calm hypnotic shapes as safety in patterns, family and tradition is satisfactorily acknowledged.

Raised in Birmingham, Aakash Odedra was found to be dyslexic while still quite young. Finding regular, written learning a challenge, once discovered, dance became his key language of communication. Now an Ambassador for the charity Dyslexia Action, the headline dance Murmur 2.0, choreographed by Lewis Major and Odedra, explores the condition and its perceived, warped and exaggerated realities.

Five silk drapes now, encircled by a number of electric fans. A man sits, working things out, counting out loud One, Two Three, Four, then in Urdu, Ek, Do, Teen, Chaar. He makes mistakes, he’s slow. Hand shapes correspond with each number then a hand stops working, goes dead. As inert as a dead bird, the wrist hangs lifeless. The dancer speaks to us.

“How long does it take to correct a mistake? 10 seconds, 10 minutes, 10 years, 21 years?”

He makes mistakes with his legs, his body. He walks on bent toes to squeamish responses from the audience. That’s not the right way to walk. He’s learning to spell his name out loud: A – K – A – S – H, but we learn he only discovered at 21 that there was an extra A in AAKASH despite it being there all the time.

After ceremonially straightening the silk drapes to create a partition, a screen, all of a sudden a swirl of small, animated birds fly upwards and over him. This is when we discover tonight’s multi-media possibilities bringing with it a heightened fascination.

Dancing behind this diaphanous partition, real-time visual tricks expand the dancer’s reality and his self-awareness. An ingenious camera technology tracks Odedra’s every move to play it a split second later against the screen as a scratchy, moving line drawing that grows as big as a Yeti. The variations at play are downright exciting and its thrilling to see dance, the art form, unafraid of appearing polluted. The soundtrack by Nicki Wells and music supervisor Nitin Sawhney, is strong and imposing but has sadness.

Finding some calm, and moving towards the climax with a metaphorical sun setting through lighting, a single A4 sheet of paper falls from the heavens, following by more to create a downpour. Catching each one of them, Odedra is no longer frightened by the page but there is still room for overwhelm that comes when all fans are turned on creating a whirlwind of literacy. Having found the once missing A of his name, he loses it again amidst the swirling updrafts, causing a frantic panic. With a dark stage, vortexing blue lit smoke and a nightmare of projected chalk drawings that show a bird in a cage, then out free, followed by an almost Hitchcockian raging murmur of birds on the wing, our dancer is like Saint-Exupéry’s, The Little Prince that I see referenced in the chalk drawings, his long scarf outstretched with birds flying on leashes.

The struggle to remain in control despite not interpreting word shapes on the page as others do, to fly with the birds and keep in formation, is expressed in the overwhelming, heightened emotions, as everything comes gently to rest again as this wildly imaginative dance expression draws to its end. As the appreciative audience is loud with cheers and awe, Aakash Odedra Company’s second visit to Newport this year further secures their reputation as a bright light in UK Dance.

Read the original review in Art Scene in Wales

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

Echoes and I Imagine – World Premiere – Curve

Posted on 10th Oct 2015
By Trevor Locke
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
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.

This entry was originally published at http://www.artsinleicestershire.co.uk/ in News on March 12, 2016