Sacred Monsters

Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan

Sadler’s Wells
20 September 2006

(A version of this review was published in The Independent on 2 October 2006)

The pairing of these two dancers in itself created such anticipation that the show was sold out months ago. Having seen them both perform separately, and memorably, in collaborations with other dancers, I was keen to see what they would come up with together. Presumably this same thought drew the rest of the full house.

A stark white set, evoking a frozen landscape, was unveiled with a tableau of six motionless figures. A voice began calling out, intermittently breaking the silence, as four of the figures moved to their positions at the side of the stage. They were the musicians and singers. A muted violin started up, then stopped, and finally, the dancers began their movements in silence. It was a slow awakening into the drama of the evening. Although deliberate and highly controlled, this silent start felt contrived and unoriginal. Around me the audience seemed to be holding their breath, stifling coughs and fidgets, waiting for the music to begin, waiting for the volume to be raised and the dancing to become less self-conscious.

Khan launched into a powerful kathak-based first solo, with ghunghroo, the traditional bells, wrapped around his lower calves. The choreography by Gauri Sharma Tripathi provided ample opportunity for him to show his technical mastery of this classical Indian dance.

The theme of breaking out of boundaries and finding her own answers was introduced before Guillem’s solo, yet, despite her amazing physique and some stunning postures, this piece seemed derivative and overwrought. Soon after this, she came into her own and both dancers more than fulfilled the stated concept of ‘exchange and experimentation’.

The next few pieces were introduced with insight and humour; perceptibly lifting the mood in the auditorium. Guillem showed she could be very funny indeed, and Khan’s choreography in their third duet, in which they played slapstick ‘puppets on strings’, elicited laughter as well as audible gasps of awe from the audience.

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