Akram Khan Company

YBCA Theater, San Francisco

Written by:
David E. Moreno
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When Akram Khan first presented “Kassh” in 2002 it was his first go at a full-length work and one that helped canonize his choreographic style that fuses contemporary dance with classical Indian Kathak dance. To help hit his mark, he collaborated with one of India’s premiere sculptors, Anish Kapoor (set design) and legendary world music composer, Nitin Sawhney. Both Kahn and Sawhney were born in Brittan and share Indian ethnicity, the combination of which influenced their proclivity for eclecticism within their art.


With Saturday night’s performance, “Kassh” exploded on the stage with Sawhney’s dramatic score/soundscape, but, only after a delay in the programs starting and a subsequent confusing beginning with an unlit dancer–Sung Hoon Kim—shirtless with his back to the audience waiting soundlessly for an unnatural length of time. Once the dance took off, Khan’s distinctive choreography that expresses itself as a combination of marital arts, drill team, Kathak, and spinning tops—was immediately captivating, and as sharp as it was penetrating. Its five dynamic dancers–Kristina Alleyne, Sadé Alleyne, Sung Hoon Kim, Nicola Monaco, and Sarah Cerneaux–dressed in Kimie Nakano’s reimagined classic Indian black cotton dresses over leggings for the women and skirts with leggings for the two shirtless men—cut their way through space with karate styled arm gestures bending into a repetition of swan neck gestures. Tai chi style lunges, aggressive stabbing motions, swift tumbles and rolls to the floor, solos, and duets were often framed by the remaining dancers who stood still at different points on stage with one dancer’s back to the audience as a reoccurring image. Kahn’s use and manipulation of space is impressive, especially in the opening and closing sequences, but within the first fifteen minutes of “Kassh” one could only wonder how this high intensity would sustain itself through the next forty minutes.


Equally dynamic was Aideen Malone’s lighting design that handsomely held its own to the overpowering rhythmic score and hard hitting choreography, often side lighting dancers, bathing the floor, or altering Kapoor’s Rothkoesque rectangular backdrop. When the score abruptly stopped as a transition into another segment it was easy to imagine the thunderous tablas still pounding as a duet drifted dully in the silence. This section felt less like juxtaposition to what preceded and more like an ambiguous shift in direction no longer supported by Sawhney’s forceful beat.


The company, whose bios and headshots were unfortunately missing from program notes, maintained a high level of precision and impeccable timing through out the performance always 100% in sync with one another. They complimented each other in skill and diversity with Nicola Monaco successfully holding a tangible calm presence as he fulfilled the role once danced by Kahn and Sung Hoon Kim somatically ending the piece with his back rippling and undulating to the audience. Yet, for all the perfect ingredients that “Kassh” has it lacks both metaphor and emotional connectivity to make it truly memorable, with dancers impersonally moving around each other like whirling dervishes that never have the satisfaction of human connection despite tribal-like interactions. At least with the dervishes, their spinning achieves something transcendent.


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