Akram Khan Company, Roundhouse, London
January 12, 2016
In the cavernous space of the Roundhouse, Akram Khan has created a miniature theatrical gem in Until the Lions. From the hundreds of verses of the Mahabarata, he has woven dance and music to narrate a tale of human desires drawing the audience into an illuminated vortex.
The low sonic boom which precedes the action sets the mood: brooding, timeless and fraught with anticipation. The dance stage is fashioned like a magnified cross-section of tree trunk that, in dramatic moments, splits and heaves, Michael Hull’s extraordinary lighting shapes and shifts the drama so every part of this integrated production is alive and sensory. The three dancers occupy the centre while the four musicians circle the periphery building a labyrinthine web of intricate detail.
The three dancers, Ching-ying Chien (簡晶瀅), Christine Joy Ritter and Khan, himself each create a distinctive character. Chien is a tiny mercurial figure. As Amba, the abducted bride, she arrives carelessly bundled over Bheeshma’s shoulder. Her initial skipping dance presents her as flirty and vulnerable but in confronting Bheeshma, (played by Khan) and his irascible behaviour, she reveals herself a tower of strength. Her light flexible body is able to interpret every nuance of emotion as she dances with speed and power while the delicacy of her hand and foot gestures make her performance riveting to watch. Ritter is a very different but no less intriguing character. Her movements range from a fluid loping run as graceful as a panther to a warm and womanly persona in the duets with Chien.
Khan is a brooding, disturbed central figure: the rigidity of his persona contrasting choreographically and emotionally with the females. His Khatak roots are interpreted in the whirling patterns and padhant rhythms admirably expressing his anger and frustration.
Vincenzo Lamagna has created a score that sensitively matches the drama. The musician/ singers play a range of predominantly percussive instruments and make use of a many sounds and languages to create a unique soundscape. In the huge space the music comes alive making a powerful immersive production.
Although only a small section of the Mahabarata tale is referenced, Khan develops rich and often ambiguous characters. The depth and resonance of this short work (it runs at just over an hour) makes Until the Lions one of Khan’s finest creations.
Until the Lions is at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8EH until January 24.
Tickets: www.roundhouse.org.uk or 0300 6789 222
Maggie Foyer talks to Until the Lions composer Vincenzo Lamagna and singer Sohini Alam. Read here.