REVIEW / DANCE
UNTIL THE LIONS
Akram Khan Company
Esplanade Theatre, Tuesday (Oct 9)
Akram Khan's Until The Lions gets its title from the Ugbo proverb: "Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."
This piece of dance theatre, based on Karthika Nair's retelling of an episode from the Mahabharata, tells the tale of Amba, a princess who is abducted and humiliated by the warrior Bheeshma.
It is a victim-victor narrative that is spun on its head by the passage of time as Amba, reincarnated as the warrior Shikhandi, eventually defeats her nemesis.
However, Khan eschews a literal narrative, placing the three characters in a time warp where they shift compellingly between states of torment and delirium.
All the action unfolds on the trunk of a severed tree, giving the impression of miniature figurines being manipulated by forces far beyond their comprehension.
This is made more apparent in the Esplanade Theatre where the work sits firmly within the proscenium and only Vincenzo Lamagna's stirring music extends beyond the stage.
Threatening percussive beats incite the dancers as they are swept up in the whirlwind of Khan's movement language, rife with urgent spins and deft footwork. Yet it is particularly breathtaking when they halt, lending gravitas to stillness.
Joy Alpuerto Ritter as Shikhandi is a feral presence throughout the show. She moves with the sinister agility of a black cat, twisting herself around a spear, preparing to fight Bheeshma with every inch of her body.
The mercurial Ching-Ying Chien undergoes a stunning transformation as Amba. From merry to monstrous, she readies herself for war as the vertical beams of Michael Hulls' lighting seem to cage her in.
Her hands meet the face of Rianto, who plays Bheeshma, to caress. But his hands reject hers and they both grope at air in a series of empty hugs. When their embraces finally coincide, it is out of Amba's desperation, not for love, but dignity.
Chien then musters her entire being, picking herself up each time she jerkily crumbles to the ground. She flails wildly, her limbs longing to escape her body. Even her toes curl up under the tension as she is suspended in a deep back bend. Her head is on the floor; her entire world has been turned upside down.