Sumptuous: Samsara by Aakash Odedra and Hu Shenyuan

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
August 18, 202

Samsara begins with the sound of a gong. Upstage, Hu Shenyuan’s (胡沈員) lithe, sinuous body awakes. He stretches and reaches, contorts as he twists and turns, the light playing beautifully off his fluid, sculpted and sinuous form. It’s just the first of one captivatingly beautiful scene after another in his collaboration with Aakash Odedra.

The work is inspired by the many monks who made long pilgrimages that eventually led to the 16th-century Chinese story Journey to The West in which four pilgrims travel to India to study sacred Buddhist texts, the Chinese translations at home having become badly corrupted. While Hu and Odedra’s story references travel, it’s as much a metaphorical and spiritual journey towards peace, understanding and enlightenment, about learning from one another.

The pair appear as hooded travellers, first one, then the other, Yaron Abulafia’s lighting cleverly making each vanish into thin air. Their journey is long, you sense, as they repeatedly pass by two patches of sand, each containing a sculpted figure. Previous travellers perhaps. Tina Tzoka’s austere set creates a great feeling of vast empty spaces. Abulafia’s lighting is stunning throughout, often making the stage feel like a sacred place, some sort of temple, that we are privileged to look in on.

Hu Shenyuan in Samsara
Photo Jassy Earl

Having started as strangers, Hu and Odedra soon meet. They battle in a scene of whirling arms and legs, fast leaps and turns, as their two dance perspectives – Hu trained in ballet and Chinese folk, Odedra in bharatanatyam and kathak – brush up against each other. But slowly comes respect and understanding as it turns into a conversation and a learning process.

That coming together sees the pair explore connection through rhythms tapped out on the floor and their bodies. Hu is all balletic precision, Odedra more powerful and robust as they converse in movement in a manner not unlike learning each other’s spoken language.

They combine to form an image of the goddess Shiva, their bodies intertwined, although this particular scene does feel out of keeping with the overall mood and dangerously close to cliché. A more elegant moment sees the pair pouring sand into each other’s cupped hands in a symbol of cultural and human sharing. As is so often the case, the simple ideas are the most effective.

It’s all accompanied by Nicki Wells’ masterful music played live. Percussionist Beibei Wang’s (王貝貝) passionate drumming would make a fabulous show in itself. Michael Ormiston’s singing is divine and sometimes sends a shiver down the spine.

In Buddhism, samsara refers to the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth that defines the human experience, so it’s no surprise when the evening ends as it begins with that gorgeous Hu solo, albeit with him now almost naked. As he dances the sand falls endlessly from above as if a never-ending hourglass.

It’s remarkable just how seamlessly music, dance and rhythms all align. Samsara may be a meeting of styles and cultures, but the harmony between them and the chemistry between the two dancers are incredible. There are surely lessons there for all.

Samsara is at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh to August 20, 2022. For tickets visit

A Wee Journey
The Studio, Edinburgh
August 17, 2022


Kemono L. Riot in A Wee Journey by Farah Saleh and Oğuz Kaplangı
Photo Brian Hartley

Also on a theme on travelling and migration, A Wee Journey by Palestinian dancer/choreographer Farah Saleh and composer/musician Oğuz Kaplangi in collaboration with five dancers explores ideas of belonging, connection, community and home.

Kaplangı’s music is the star of the show, bouncing off the theatre’s walls as it suggests place and emotion. It is an issue when he invites everyone to close their eyes and recall a personal journey, though, since it does send those memories in certain directions.

Saleh’s movement is considerably less effective. It relies predominantly on gesture. It’s very literal, the vocabulary very limited and repetitive and, overall, rather unconvincing. Obvious connection with the theme too often is weak. In particular, I have no idea what to make of what appears at first to be a game where the dancers bash each other with black bin bags. It looked initially like fun but increasingly took on a violent edge, yet faces and bodies told me nothing.

The best moments come towards the end when Kemono L. Riot talks to the audience in Ngala, which of course, no-one understands. When he tries in movement, that’s equally misunderstood before another dancer joins him to help out. It’s a potent but rare moment of coming together and connection.

A Wee Journey is at The Studio, Edinburgh to August 20, 2022. Click here for tickets.