Show of the week: Akram Khan and Israel Galvàn: TOROBAKA, Sadler's Wells
A genre-defying collaboration between two maverick figures from diverse dance traditions, writes Ruth Mattock
That the musicians are as compelling as Khan and Galvàn, both utterly magnetic performers, is a tribute to their talent - this is a concert of seven artists, individually brilliant, together something worth shouting about.
The whole evening is idiosyncratic - necessarily, as personalities the size of Khan's and Galvàn's don't leave much space on stage. Galvàn is a fiercely rhythmic dancer, known as much for his wild innovation as his exquisite technical precision, and a leader in the flamenco genre for the last 20 years. Khan’s background in Kathak has led him in all sorts of experimental directions on the British contemporary dance scene. Both are innovators in movement and rhythm, bringing contemporary flair to tightly bound traditions.
Kathak meets flamenco
While neither discards the tools of his trade (Khan’s feet are often belled and Galvàn’s mostly heeled in the traditional flamenco boots), they are keen to stress this is not homogenised ‘world dance’. Galvàn has worked tirelessly to counter the dumbing down of flamenco to please mass audiences; and Khan has through other collaborations tried to bring Kathak to a wider audience by exploring its links with other dance forms.
The result will intrigue aficionados of both. Khan is often praised for making complex performance more accessible; but Galvàn, perhaps because the flamenco stereotype is so familiar, can be a much less approachable artist. The Guardian called Galvàn’s La Curva 'a prodigal, practice-based tantrum'. There was rolling on the floor, some flour-throwing, a few Michael Jackson-style hip thrusts and an entire section danced with a jacket over his head.
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The very name of the piece is a hint of its esoteric nature. It’s taken from a Dadaist phonetic poem by Tristan Tzara, and refers to the bull (toro) and cow (vaca), sacred animals in the dancers’ respective traditions. This link is only one of many - the forms share some movement vocabulary, such as stamping on the ground, swinging strong circular arms and articulate shapes of the wrist and hands.
The musicians are no sideshow - integral to the dance, but there are interludes where the dancers are nowhere to be seen, and these artists have more than enough presence to hold the stage. Habitual Galvàn collaborator Bobote 'keeps palm,' interrupting his rhythms that hold everyone together only for a little flamenco performance of his own. Khan refers to David Azurza, a counter-tenor who now composes almost exclusively for the human voice, as 'a Jesus-like figure.' It's not hard to see why - little and bearded, his pure, high tones add a spiritual layer to the rhythm. As for avant-garde singer Christine Leboutte, it's a wonder the whole show isn't sucked into her huge, low, cavern-filling voice.
'A dream ticket'
Both Khan and Galvàn are music creators, and the body as a source of rhythm is a key element of this collaboration. Expect some poignant moments of comparison, as the two execute the same movement, but cannot rid their limbs of the Kathak/flamenco difference trained into every muscle.
This is a performance where description simply isn't enough. Go at once.
TOROBAKA is at Sadlers wells from the 3rd to the 8th of November. Book now and catch it while it lasts.