Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London; January 23, 2015
Aakash Odedra is a very fine exponent of Kathak and Bharatanatyam and in this programme strives to employ his mastery of these classical dance forms in a contemporary dance setting and making full use of the potential of modern design technology.
The programme of two solos closed with, Murmur, a 35-minute work with powerful visual effects and no less than 19 designers and technicians to bring it to fruition. Odedra was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age and his learning difficulties overshadowed his dance abilities. But in the end he was able to turn this around and use dance as his preferred mode of creative expression. In “Murmur” he attempts to express his personal narrative.
The piece opens with Odedra reading a book with increasing frustration, eventually casting it aside. Pages fall from the sky and with increasing desperation he tries to keep up with the cascade, eventually the pages are picked up by a circle of fans and fly around the stage space creating a strong visual impact. We see a projected stylised image of Odedra synched with him, dancer and image performing a duet and then with the light fading, just the image although we know the dancer is still there. The style is predominantly contemporary and Odedra movement is always eye-catching.
It was only when he was 21 that he realised that his name started with two a’s and this letter is used repeatedly in the graphics. Finally there is a visual tour de force with images of stars, swirling shapes based on the movement of a flock of starlings and paper flooding the space while Odedra travels around the stage eventually disappearing amidst the paper flotsam.
The visual effects of “Murmur” are frequently breathtaking, but some of the most memorable moments occur when Odedra is simply dancing in Kathak style with thrilling speed and fluency, There really is a lesson there and I spoke with a dance professional who had seen and preferred an alternative touring programme with simpler staging and a stronger classical Indian dance aesthetic.
The evening opened with “Inked”, choreographed by Damien Jalet. Emerging from a body-shaped cut-out at the back of the stage, Odedra explores the stage initially contained by strips of light. The movement is precise but awkward as if exploring a new universe. When the lights come up Odedra tumbles around the stage with his hands clasped together making snake shapes. While this held my attention, I was aware that the hands motif meant we were robbed of seeing the dexterous gestural movements of his Kathak background. A pot of ink is spilt and Odedra picks up the ink on his body and carves out curved patterns on the stage with great accuracy and with his usual fluent movement.
Of course, classically trained artists want to take their art forward. I remember Compagnie Salia ni Saydou from Burkina Faso, using traditional technique in a contemporary dance format. One of them was asked, “Why not stick to pure traditional dance?” His terrific answer was, “I’m a creator not a curator.” While Aakash Odedra’s dancing holds great promise, these two works didn’t fully utilise his gifts and I look forward to future programmes where the choreography fully exploits his talent.