Dance Review: Akram Khan’s iTMOi At Sadler’s Wells

'iTMOi', image by J Louis Fernandez

This past Wednesday 29 May marked the 100th anniversary of Russian composer Igor Stravinksy’s controversial ballet The Rite of Spring. In celebration of the benchmark-setting production that debuted in Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1912, adaptations are taking place throughout the capital. Perhaps the most anticipated in terms of visual and audio style is Akram Khan’s iTMOi (In the Mind of Igor) that runs through Saturday at Sadler’s Wells.

Famed for last year’s Olympic Opening Ceremony segment along with his Olivier award-winning solo piece Desh, Khan is certainly the ‘it man’ in the dance world at the moment. And after watching this evocative yet absorbing show, his talent is not waning. From soft, trance-like chanting to intense electric guitar chords, from bright orange backgrounds to blinding red lights and ultimately to the distinctive, sharp, jarring movement patterns, Khan definitely gives the eyes and ears a feast to behold.

For those familiar with The Rite of Spring’s twisted story centering around paganism and child sacrifice, there won’t be much surprise in terms of plot, aside from the creative additions such as the start’s reference to the biblical characters Abraham and his son Isaac (that he almost kills). But for the people that don’t have a prior knowledge of the ballet, there are dark moments that clash with more dark moments, and just when you’re hoping for a break – there come more dark moments. These thrashing segments often appear fragmented, or without a central narrative — at least not until a bit of research is completed, and even then (according to the full-house that descended from the theatre), there still may not be an understanding of what is going on. But Khan’s impassioned focus to each element of the production reels you in – making the narrative of the story almost irrelevant.

Following on from Vertical Road, which was performed two years ago, this part two of the trilogy adds volumes more drive and intensity than the first. It begins with violins and soft mumblings that transcend to growls and screams – it is the least pleasing scene as it feels bolted on to the rest of the hauntingly beautiful segments – however it does set the tone of ritual, and in turn, fear.

The next scene explodes with the introduction of the tribal members and then further juxtaposes with the almost deathly quiet entrance of the woman in white, or one could say, a ruptured white swan. As she is fawned over by those in the group, a young, feisty child appears who jolts in syncopatic rhythms around the stage. To say more would give it away – but blasts of deeply saturated colours light the stage, a disco ball swings with dramatic force and sharp, and at times deliriously crazed choreography fills the stage – deep emotions are at play here.

The collaborative team must be mentioned as, like all Khan’s productions, this is a multi-dimensional showcase of talents — the original score is performed by versatile producer/composer/radio presenter Nitin Sawhney (whose music is performed live for this run of the production), Jocelyn Pook and contemporary musician/composer Ben Frost. The 11 international dancers are dressed in prolific costumes created by Kimie Nakano, intricately lit by Fabiana Piccioli and on a set designed by Matt Deely.

It is amazing what can be done with very little – Khan not only manages to does this, he does so with utmost passion and precision. Just don’t allow the adaptation to throw you – let this production take you somewhere new.

iTMOi (In the Mind of Igor) is at Sadler’s Wells until this Saturday 1 June at 7.30pm. Running time is 70 minutes. Tickets £12-£32, Groups 8+ 20% off. 

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