Duality in harmony

Akram Khan (far left) and Israel Galvan (left), both masters in their own respective dance form, created new inspired territory with their energetic performance.
Akram Khan (left) and Israel Galvan (right), both masters in their own respective dance form, created new inspired territory with their energetic performance.PHOTO: JEAN-LOUIS FERNANDEZ

Indian dance form kathak and Spanish flamenco meld into a single masterpiece

REVIEW / DANCE

TOROBAKA

Akram Khan & Israel Galvan

Esplanade Theatre

Last Friday

The seemingly disparate cultures of India and Spain have a lot of common ground in their dances.

In a show that speaks of the purity and universality of the language of the body in motion, the lines between the exacting Indian dance form of kathak and the exuberant Spanish dance form of flamenco are blurred.

Masters and mavericks of the respective genres, Akram Khan and Israel Galvan have been brought up in the classical canon, only to innovate and deviate from what they know.

These are artists united by a spirit of necessity to dance, to express themselves in a language that has posture as grammar, movement as vocabulary and rhythm as punctuation.

Therefore while it demands to be seen and heard, Torobaka, the product of this collaboration, is most keenly felt.

The stage is transformed into an arena - for raging bulls and for extravagant rock stars.

Khan and Galvan are joined by the enthralling musical ensemble of B. C. Manjunath, Bobote, Christine Lebouette and David Azurza.

Together, they weave a stunning tapestry of polyrhythms and harmonies. Feet take to the dance floor as hands strike a drum, producing sounds which reverberate far beyond the proscenium. Everyone is dancing and everyone is making music.

Torobaka pulses with the charge of unrehearsed spontaneity, yet the precision and synergy between its performers hint at a process that is nothing less than rigorous.

Here, a guru and a maestro are engaged in a duel that is a duet, one that is fierce yet friendly.

As they exchange stamps, taps and claps, Khan and Galvan build a rapport on machismo and humour.

One opens his mouth to bark at the other, and is met with a hand gesture as if to say "Shut up and dance!".

And they do just that, eschewing mimicry for assimilation, filling the same forms with different ideas.

Galvan is an out-and-out showman, exhibiting a debonair, throwaway precision. His limbs threaten to shoot away from his lean frame as they propel him across the stage.

Khan by contrast, exudes a resolute, trance-induced serenity. He moves like mercury, transforming deftly from one posture to the next. One strikes the floor with his heel, the other strokes it. One pierces the air with his outstretched arm, the other slices it finely.

When the pair perform the same movements, these differences are subtle but are crucial in highlighting these masters' physical heritage and its resonance on their dancing.

Much of the evening comprised solos - meditations both serious and cheeky on the dance form that is unfamiliar to either dancer.

Khan wears flamenco boots on his hands, beginning a persistent search for movement possibilities through his kathak-trained body as the shoes seem to lead him on a skittering sojourn until he catches them between his legs.

These must be Galvan's shoes, possessed by the man's wild spark and the rhythm that runs through his veins.

Similarly, Galvan takes on the softer upper body angles of kathak, taming his arms to come together with palms down in front of his chest.

But this does not last for long, and he blitzes through the solo with a nonchalant humour, his wiry frame and John Travolta- esque suaveness an inevitable channel for harmless mockery.

Here are two incredible artists, and one hopes to have seen more of them together.

Their duets are hyperactive, almost dangerous and with the quartet of musicians, the entire ensemble creates an extraordinary hybrid - one whose individual components are distinct yet cannot be told apart.

Torobaka has thus given rise not to the middle ground, but to inspired, new territory.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2015, with the headline 'Duality in harmony'. Print Edition | Subscribe