Last February, Akram Khan’s company performed “Vertical Road” at Montclair State University. (I reviewed it at the time, for The Faster Times.) This week, it returns as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival.
Here’s an excerpt from that review:
“As the piece begins, a shadow appears behind the membrane, suddenly pushing against it, producing a loud noise that makes the audience gasp. He does it again. The shadow, now clearly a male form, draws circles on the membrane, then writes on it with his finger, creating beautiful, shimmering ripples. Then, at the end of the piece, the membrane falls to the ground with a dramatic flutter; transcendence has been achieved, the barriers to enlightenment cut away. It’s a little obvious, but still, esthetically pleasing.
The dancers are beautiful and strong, powerfully present without being showy or over-dramatic. They interact with great intimacy; it’s not “here, I’m touching you in order to lift you,” but “I put my hand on your hip and you trust me.” After a long erotic pas de deux—I read it as an illustration of transcendence through sexual ecstasy—a man (I believe it was Andrej Petrovic) removed his partner’s outermost layer of clothing (I believe she was Eulalia Ayguade Farro) and one could feel the sexual tenderness of his touch. If these two dancers are not lovers, they damn well look like they are and the truthfulness of their performance elicits echoes of recognition in our own minds. We too have known moments like this.
Khan’s dancers move with weight and a strong sense of thrust. The choreography here combines the sinuousness and focus of martial arts with the quick, powerful changes of direction and whip-like arm movements of Indian dance—the dancers look like warriors and spiritual seekers, drawing circles with their arms and torsos, dragging their bodies along the ground, squatting in preparation for animal-like leaps, spinning like dervishes. There is a powerful section in which two men enter into combat, without ever touching each other. The force fields of their hands ripple through the space that separates them, sending them flying or crashing down to the ground. But there is not quite enough variety of tone to keep things interesting throughout the seventy-or-so minutes of the performance. There is too much unison dancing, and the rhythms stay too close to the thumping beat of the music, like an insistent pulse. It’s over-literal. Enlightenment is one thing, but as they say, half the fun is getting there.”
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