Our Executive Director Mirna Zagar shares her thoughts about the acclaimed British dancer Aakash Odedra, presented with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in a double bill at the Vancouver Playhouse January 19-20:
Aakash Odedra is a beautiful performer. While trained in the classical Indian dance forms of bharata natyam and kathak, he currently increasingly works in the contemporary form; he brings together in a refined way the skills and virtuosity required in these traditional styles, and the physicality and specificities of the contemporary dance idiom. He is masterful in transposing and applying his performative talent to fulfill the distinct and specific aesthetics of such diverse choreographic masters as Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Akram Khan, and Russell Maliphant. What is mesmerizing in his performances is the way he combines classical rigour with the adventurous lightness so specific to him. In classical ballet we had Sylvie Guillem, who so effortlessly also performed contemporary works, and here in this new generation perhaps we can consider Aakash as a male rendition. While he is not a novice when it comes to choreography, more recent works (such as Inked and Murmur) are more ambitious and clearly an adventure, paving a new path in his career. He still works with choreographers, but now he has much greater input into the final choreographic output. In both Inked and Murmur we will be able to watch his riveting performance as he executes complex rhythms, as his arms magically trace elegant arabesques, or his body suddenly contorts into some disturbing creature-like form. I admire an artist who takes on a personal challenge and brings it into the general domain, and these works are inspired by Aakash’s own personal experiences.
These are solo works, however they require a certain sense of spatial context to be performed, which requires a bigger stage. Although Aakash may be new to PuSh and contemporary dance audiences, he has a following within those engaged in classical Indian dance: Mandala Arts and Culture presented him as part of the Gait to the Spirit Festival to full houses (with many turned away disappointed that they couldn’t get a ticket!) at Scotiabank Dance Centre. I hope that audiences will be interested in seeing something new and also in observing how someone seen in a more classical repertoire applies his talent into a more contemporary context. Vancouver has been increasingly exposed to some of the world’s most exceptional dance talent in recent years, not just through the PuSh Festival and The Dance Centre’s own Global Dance Connections series, but through DanceHouse, the Chutzpah! Festival, the Vancouver International Dance Festival and others. Aakash Odedra falls into this category of exceptional, not-to-be-missed performing artists. Among solo dance performers, Aakash has one of the most demanding touring schedules imaginable and has performed across the world.
Inked and Murmur are very personal, and personable, works. We have a beautiful opportunity to see not only the merging of high technology with the performing arts, but also two very different pieces built on experiences that many in our society can relate to. Inked is rooted in a more traditional context, building on the memory of Aakash’s grandmother and how her skin was adorned with tattoos, and from there the work springboards into ideas about transformation. So we look at a metamorphosis on stage, of tradition and something very tangible, to something more ephemeral.
Inked and Murmur are collaborations with choreographers Damien Jalet and Lewis Major respectively, so we will also be introduced to two more up-and-coming artists who are making a strong impression in the dance world. Damien Jalet is a French-Belgian choreographer and performer, who has since 2000 been the closest and most regular collaborator of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, within Les Ballets C de la B. In 2002 they created d’avant, together with Luc Dunberry and Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola, produced by Sasha Waltz and still touring the world. With Cherkaoui he also co-authored Babel (words), which won two Olivier Awards. His many other collaborators include Wim Vandekeybus, theatre director Arthur Nauzyciel, visual artists Antony Gormley and Jim Hodges, and musician Stefano Scodanibio, and he also choreographed for Bjork’s Surrender. Recently he created Yama for Scottish Dance Theatre and Gravity Fatigue with fashion designer Hussein Chalayan for Sadler’s Wells London.
Murmur takes the idea of dyslexia, a common condition: Aakash himself has it. Here we can see how ideas and personal experiences are transposed into a more general context, using technology but also through Aakash’s own powerful performance. He makes positivity of something that can be daunting, and we can relate his contemporary expression to his roots in kathak through the syncopated, very fast rhythmic movement which evokes in us an almost joyful experience, as the work comes to a visually striking conclusion. Murmur was co-created with Australian choreographer and dance artist Lewis Major, who is based between the UK, France and Australia. His work is invested in the potential of choreography and performance to inform cultural discourse and enable affective experiences. Lewis’s work is characterised by a unique approach to flow and energy and an ongoing exploration of the relationship between theatre, movement, light, sound and technology. He has worked with Russell Maliphant, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Akram Khan and is mentored by Olivier Award-winning lighting designer Michael Hulls.
What is contemporary, and when does something become traditional? I do believe that in order to present a new idea, or opt out of what appears as traditional, to do so successfully we must have a deep understanding of what that traditional context is, and we must have mastered the skills in order to break away. However, I don’t think that one is better than the other - nor do I believe in how these definitions are sometimes used to evaluate a work, or contextualize it. I enjoy a great conversation between the two, I enjoy how one impacts on the other, and the resulting transformation. There is much to be said about why we perceive something that is clearly of our time as more contemporary and vice versa. Inked and Murmur are fine examples of the coming together of traditional and contemporary and how one impacts the other, where they meet and where they part.
The Dance Centre and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival present Aakash Odedra Company in Inked + Murmur, January 19-20, 2016 at the Vancouver Playhouse.
Photos: top - Murmur by Kajal Nisha Patel; bottom - Inked by Sean Goldthorpe.