It’s not the norm to enter an auditorium with a dancer poised, ready to begin on stage while the house lights are still lit. Akram Khan’s revival of Kaash begins in exactly this way, with a male dancer statue-still on stage whilst the noise of the audience continues to rumble around him. This powerful start echoes what is to come throughout the evening, as the dancer steadfastly waits for the audience to simmer down, which only occurs when the lights drop to pitch black and the music booms.
The piece begins full-throttle, as four other dancers launch into the space in synchronised movements, perfectly harmonised with each other. It doesn’t take long before Khan’s signature fusion style of classical Indian Khattak and contemporary dance ring loud and clear in the movements of his dancers.
Khattak is a style of dance known for its precise movement, something certainly not lacking in Khan’s choreography as his dancers attack the space with both full body and the subtle flick of a limb. Themes of Hindu mysticism and the universe can be seen through the choreography, with the rotating motion of the dancers making them appear like swirling constellations, orbiting the space and moving from alignment to alignment. The pace of the turns and spins make it impressive to watch and are made even more effective by the costume, designed by Kimie Nakano. The dancers, both male and female, are dressed similarly in dark, floor-length robes that emphasise the spinning movements; the only difference in dress is the bare torso of the male dancers. The female dancers wear modest sleeveless tops, which to the same effect as the topless male dancers highlights the power in their bodies, particularly as Khattak has an emphasis on arm gestures.
Even to someone without a trained eye, the athleticism and technique of the dancers aren’t lost as they dart around the square of light designed by Aideen Malone, which remains present throughout most of the piece. Starting as white and changing through to blues, reds and oranges, the box of light on the floor sets the tone for each section of the piece. The only time the square disappears is was when it is reduced to a thin strip of light at the front of the stage and is filled by an impressive solo, full of power as though all the energy of the dancer has been channelled into this corridor of light. She swims in the light, folding her body in near-impossible ways to, at one point, an audible gasp from an audience member.
It’s worth noting that when Khan originally created Kaash back in 2002, with the same composer Nitin Sawhney and artist Anish Kapoor (who designed the ominous black box backdrop), his cast of dancers was entirely different. Kaash was originally devised with input from the first cast, but the dancers in this revival show no signs of performing old or second-hand choreography and seem completely confident, while moving fluidly and forcefully through the movements.
The whole piece feels as if power and tension are building from the moment the lights drop and the audience are hushed. As the piece goes on, sections of movement in silence become more frequent as the shows nears its climax. The level of Khattak movement also increases as it crescendoes near the end, with characteristic stamps and arm gestures that, when paired with Sawhney’s precise and quick composition, are satisfying to watch.
Kaash is a product of clear collaboration between artists. Initially in 2002 it was a shared project between Khan, Kapoor and the dancers as they explored themes of a mutual interest. This revival shows no disintegration in the collaborative efforts and, if anything, it proves it is still relevant today, fourteen years after it originally graced the stage.
Kaash is playing at Sadler’s Wells until 5 March. For more information, see the Sadler’s Wells website. Photo: