Who would’ve thunk? I kind of like it… OK, let me back track slightly. On January 27th, I went to see Vertical Road by the Akram Khan Company at Theatre Maisonneuve. The company was brought into town as part of the Danse Danse series (who also somehow forgot to give me a press kit, but I digress). In short they were pretty gosh darn amazing. In my notes I wrote “very cool,” “wicked cool!” “I’m riveted,” “Wow!!” and “She’s Amazing!” You get the idea.
In mulling things over, I wasn’t quite certain how or what I was going to write. It’s always easier to write something sarcastic and negative than it is to write something that praises. But then I started to do some cursory research, and one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb to me was how the whole shebang was sponsored by Colas. In the program they had even gone so far as to give some guy named Hervé Le Bouc a full page to explain how his company ended up being partnered with the Akram Khan Company.
I only had one small question. Who, or what was Colas? As it turns out, they are a French company that builds roads (or as they write in the program: Roads). As I wrote up above, “I kind of like it.” It being the idea that some industrial engineering company is paying some kind of coin (and I would imagine and hope that it is some serious coin if they are getting a full page in the program) so that contemporary British dance can be seen.
So it now becomes self-evident here the name of the dance comes from. Unfortunately I wasn’t invited to the dinner with M. Le Bouc and Mr. Khan so I can’t comment on whether M. Le Bouc had any other input into how the dance was created, or if he participated in any other way. Personally, I’d like to think that M. Le Bouc was a big dance fan going way back, and that over dinner he and Mr. Khan hit it off like a house on fire, brainstorming ideas ’till the cows came home. Then after they had become BFF, Akram (after all they gotta be on a first name basis by now) blurts out to Hervé “I know I’ll make a dance for your company!”
I also think it would be great if some of our local engineering firms that built roads (or other things) started sponsoring local dance companies. But somehow, I don’t see that happening for a while. Pity.
Despite not getting a press kit (me, obsessive? nah.) I was able to suss out that Vertical Road is supposed to be some kind of spiritual dance. Mr. Khan is quoted in the program as saying it is “the journey from gravity to grace.” But I’m not entirely clear on what that means, exactly. Is he referring to the force of attraction? Heaviness or weight? Seriousness or importance? Or something else. And grace has equally many definitions, none of which are exactly antonyms of gravity. In fact, riffing off of the seriousness definition you could almost make a point that gravity and grace were synonymous. Almost.
But back to the point at hand, the performance. In reading about it (after the fact) just about everyone seems to talk about Vertical Road as a journey by one person. That did not come across as strongly as you would think during the performance. Salah El Brogy definitely was the “lead.” But there was enough other stuff happening that the idea of a journey really only occurred to me after I read about it and then kinda nodded my head and said to myself (quietly) “yeah, I can see that…”
To me it was much more of a group piece done in about eight separate scenes, beginning and ending quite dramatically with a scrim. At the beginning, I couldn’t quite tell if there was one or two people behind it, and then I figured out that it was only one person, Mr. El Brogy – who I referred to as “the hairy dude” in my notes – because he placed various body bits on it in a kind of shadow play. But what was most impressive to me was how he banged it, like a gong or something, with his hand and it rippled like a vertical lake. At the end he goes back to the shadow play and when the scrim drops the show is over.
For the six other scenes, there is lots of running, jumping, spinning and the like. While I was watching I thought there were some similarities to various martial arts like kung-fu. But while doing some cursory research I came across this article from The Guardian that informed me that
Khan’s dance roots are in kathak – and it shows. It’s a style characterised by mathematically complex rhythmic footwork, spins, fluid arm and hand gestures, as well as dynamic contrasts between speed and stillness.
I also saw some similarities to the Dhikr performed by the Mevlevi Order (as I wrote that I was sticking out my chest proudly, showing off my madd wikipedia skillz!). In plainer language there were some bits that reminded me of Whirling Dervishes.
And if I remember correctly, I read someplace that Mr. Khan is a Sufi, and the whirling dervishes are also Sufi.
But then my theory starts to fall apart when I also noted that certain bits of the show reminded me of Loie Fuuller.
And no matter how hard I try I can’t make any connections between a 19th century American vaudeville performer and Mr. Khan. Other strange visions that jumped onto my head during the performance were of American football referees.
And Chinese terracotta warriors (mainly due to the incredible amount of talcum powder that was on their costumes and how solidly they stood at in the second and third scenes). In what I’m calling the third scene there’s a wicked cool back and forth that I would call a duet except that all eight dancers are on stage doing stuff. Where the shortest woman in the company (sorry but my memory is not good to begin with and since I didn’t get a press kit, trying to figure out if it was Eulalia Ayguade Farro, Konstandina Efthymiadou or Yen-Ching Lin is beyond my abilities – suffice it to say that they all are pretty gosh darn amazing dancers) does a kind of puppet and puppet master dance with Mr. El Brogy (aka the Hairy Dude) made even more spectacular because at various points they trade positions and that who was the puppet becomes the puppet master and vice versa.
It because of things like that, where Mr. Khan plays fast and loose with whatever plot there is, in order to wow and impress the audience with movement that caused me to that there wasn’t much of a path happening.
Some other brief thoughts I had were that while I have never been to Burning Man, the performance was very Burning Man-esque. Sort of like a 21st century version of transcendental meditation done while throwing bodies through space. And while looking up the dancers on the internet I discovered that Ms. Ayguade Farro also danced in the Hofesh Schecter company and immediately recognized the similarities in style between the two.
I should also mention Ahmed Khemis, Yen-Ching Lin, Andrej Petrovic and Elias Lazaridis. Just because they didn’t get anything that I would call a solo does not in anyway mean that they were anything less than kick-ass and amazing dancers. They were and are, and I can only hope that when I grow up that I can dance half as well as they can.
At which point I’ve gone way over any reasonable word count and should probably attempt to wrap this up somehow. An easy way? Next time the Akram Khan company shows up in your town, go buy tickets.