Akram Khan – The Pursuit Of Now – Sadlers Wells

itmoi_2577176bSadler’s Wells is one of the world’s leading dance venues with two performance spaces, the main house theatre and the Lilian Baylis studio. With an impressive history of the present building being the sixth on the site since 1683. Boasting a large record of shows from companies such as Ballet Boyz to solo performances of Savion Glover to full scale theatre productions of Matthew Bourne’s work.

Buta Festival 2015 presents The Pursuit of Now project – an improvised work by the Azeri jazz pianist Shahin Novrasli with the British contemporary dancer Akram Khan, performed at Sadler’s Wells in the final month of the second Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts. The Pursuit of Now is the world premiere of a unique contemporary dance-jazz infusion that brings two greats to London stage.

Akram Khan is one of the most celebrated and respected dance artists today. In just over a decade he has created a body of work that has contributed significantly to the arts in the UK and abroad. His reputation has been built on the success of imaginative, highly accessible and relevant productions such as DESH, iTMOi, Vertical Road, Gnosis and zero degrees.

Growing up in Azerbaijan, Shahin Novrasli’s rare talent emerged from his country’s various compositional influences as well as its unusual and rich musical heritage. Elegantly blending his classical knowledge, Azerbaijan’s traditional folk “Mugham” and his jazz influences, Shahin creates his own unique and accomplished musical universe, among which he combines eastern and western cultures.

Honji Wang is a choreographer and dancer born and raised in Germany by Korean parents. Her dance language is strongly rooted in hip hop, combined with influences of her earlier martial arts and ballet training.

The Pursuit of Now can be divided into sections: Dancers Duet, Music Interlude One, Honji’s Solo, Music Interlude Two, Music Interlude Three, Akram’s Solo, Music Interlude Four. The beginning duet opened with Wang being clasped around the feet by Khan, popping, locking and isolating her arms whilst leaning to the extremities of her balance. This was aesthetically impressive to watch the physical commitment and effort it took Wang to do so.

In Wang’s solo dance she explicitly, through the use of the specific movement chosen, showcases the influence of her martial arts background. This is evident through her use of explosive floor work and dropped pelvis utilising the strength in her legs. Additionally, the use of the quick flashing lights whilst Wang was popping created the clever effect that she was popping faster and with more precision than she actually was making it appear more rigid.

On the contrary to Wang’s solo, Khan’s solo was predominantly about the fluidity in his arms interspersed with the sporadic engagement of his hands breaking at the wrists providing visually exciting contrasts. A moment of silence came in the music where all that was audible was Khan’s breathing. This provided its own soundscape throughout the use of Khan’s intricate self-contained movements.

As interesting as the dance segments were they were heavily over shadowed by music interludes which seemed far too long and far too many of them. During the hour and a half performance – with no interval – roughly, 15% was dance and 85% was music. The musicians themselves were very talented, drummer Air Hoenig found multiple fascinating ways of playing the drums, double bassist Nathan Peck acted as his own capo by covering the entire double bass at certain points changing the entire pitch range of the instrument.

Regardless of how talented the musicians were, their sections lasted far too long and were all far too similar to enjoy this piece which was billed as a ‘dance special’.

Reviewed by Thomas Yates