Rooted or Uprooted?

ma (“Earth”)
Akram Khan Company
Lincoln Center Presents : Great Performers
Rose Theater
New York City
April 26, 2006

by Nancy Dalva
copyright ©2006, Nancy Dalva

Akram Khan, born in London to a family of Bangladeshi origin, is that rare fusion artist whose every impulse, in any direction, sings of authenticity. He studied Kathak with Sri Pratap Pawar and became his disciple. He was cast at age 14 by Peter Brook in his “Mahabarata,” in which extraordinary theater work he toured the world between 1987 and 1989. Next he studied contemporary dance, and worked with Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker in Brussels, and began a solo career. He launched his own company in 2000, the year he celebrated his 26th birthday. Quite the resume, no? And it all comes into play in this work that received its New York premiere, where people either seemed to bounce off it, finding it somehow inhospitable, or fall into its trance. I experienced some of each.

From the get-go, ma was an astonishment: it had things in it I had never seen before, and they were not arbitrary things, such as, for instance, someone standing in undershorts with his head in a fish bowl, a cloven watermelon off to one side. (In other words, not surreal; not Butoh.) Just strange things: a man singing upside down, two girls inverted at the front of the stage, one leg way high, hands and second foot on the ground; a company in deep earth colors looking ancient and current, whipping about but almost never coalescing, until a moment when they gather on the ground and form one body, comprised of all of them, with a head rising at one end, and feet on another, like a giant lulled from sleep by some curious passing event.

As indeed there were curious passing events, marked with a text by Hanif Kureishi; songs by Faheen Mazhar, who was the vocalist; and a cellist, Natalie Rozario; Lisa Mallet, flue; and B C Manjunath, on a percussion instrument, the mridangam. These musicians mixed in and interacted with the company of seven, all adepts, with the choreographer, as is always the case, or usually is, the most expressive of his own idiom. There was very beautiful atmospheric light, including a light haze, concocted of mineral oil and water, and sprayed in the air before the audience arrives to a stage drifted in mist. The designer, Mikki Kunttu (the entire roster is wonderfully international), is an integral player; one cannot imagine the piece without the varied penumbrae, the pendant lamps with their triangular down-spots, and so forth.

So: music, narrators (the dancers, variously), song, light, costume. And yet, the work seemed to be abstract. I saw the imagery and I heard the story, beginning with a fable about a barren woman who, finding seeds on a table, plants them in her garden. Only the next morning, waking from a trouble sleep, had my dreaming mind put together what my waking brain had missed. This is a dance about roots — two trees, double roots. It is about being grounded in two cultures. About one tree falling, another staying upright. About trying to conquer one of the trees. About being upside down in yet another tree, singing. Rooted, but suspended. If asked to guess what that tree was — that ur tree, in which the piece began, I wouldn’t know whether to say mother, or country, or culture. Or, maybe, just art. A beautiful work, though, full of surprises, and more than the sum of its parts, if you give it time to sink in, to seep in, and to set root in your own unconscious. Idiosyncratic, original, and with all the qualities of an art that is not about projection, though it does project, but about ritual. An art, then, with some of the qualities of Katak; some of Peter Brook; and some of Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker, among other influences subsumed, like fertilizer, to nourish one singular tree.

Photo of Akram Khan Company in the New York premiere of Khan's evening-length work "ma" by SPH-Straits Times

Volume 4, No. 18
May 8, 2006

copyright ©2006 Nancy Dalva



©2006 DanceView