TOROBAKA – Sadler’s Wells, London.
Akram Khan and Israel Galván did not intend with Torobaka merely to combine two styles of dance, Indian kathak and flamenco, into a single duet. They intended to break each style down into its basic parts and then reconstruct something entirely new. The result is a conversation between two traditions. Sometimes the conversation seems more like a fight or a competition, but like any meaningful conversation there is compromise and empathy between the two sides. Khan reconsiders the placement of his arms and moves to emulate Galván’s matador-like stance; Galván turns on his heels, inspired perhaps by Khan’s beautiful kathak spins. The dialogue Khan and Galván create is a joyful artistic achievement.
Khan and Galván continue to reimagine kathak and flamenco in their solo pieces. Galván executes his solo with arrogance and playfulness, as if he’s seeking to rebel against flamenco’s traditional roots. As he dances his way to a new identity, he is accompanied by a cacophony of drumming and distorted animal-like singing. Galván himself grunts and yells as he dances, like an early human trying to speak. When the flamenco palmas start, Galván allows some of the flamenco traditions to return in a flurry of electric footwork combinations, which celebrate the joy of the dance style he excels in.
Khan also seems to be searching for an identity in Torobaka. His search is not as frenetic or violent as Galván’s, but still involves a sense of conflict. He begins his solo with flamenco shoes on his hands, and his body reacts with a shiver like a nervous bull. The tension is resolved as the solo progresses, and ends with a brilliant partnership with palmero Bobote. Like Galván, Khan’s performances are full of personality, with every tiny movement infused with purpose and expression.
Torobaka’s excellent musicians seem less like they have an identity to forge. In the middle section they congregate centre stage to show off their talents while bathed in golden light. Bobote, whose role thus far has been fairly unassuming, surprises with a glorious demonstration of flamenco. B C Manjunath’s musical skill arouses a roar of applause. And singers David Azurza and Christine Leboutte, who create an unusual but immensely enjoyable soundscape with their medieval sounding voices, engage in light-hearted competition.
Torobaka’s highlight, however, is Khan and Galván’s final duet. Throughout they maintain their individuality, and make no effort to unnaturally force their distinctive styles to meld. Their aim, with their inventive choreography, is only for their two artistic backgrounds to converse. The outcome is a beautiful, exciting portrayal of a friendship. Torobaka is dynamic and experimental. For some, it might be unsettling, but for many – and certainly for me – it is utterly enthralling.
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By Andrea White
30th June – 5th July 2015
Sadler’s Wells, London, EC1R 4TN.