Clarity, sharpness, precision, energy: no adjectives are exhaustive enough to describe Gnosis — the word means ‘knowledge’ in Greek — a production by the Akram Khan Dance Company at Kala Mandir on September 14. A part of The Park’s New Festival and an initiative by the British Council India, Gnosis was an entire package of dance, music, set design, lighting and the visual impact of a breathtaking presentation. It proved that, along with knowing dance, one should learn the nuances of presentation. This makes a production both artistic and commercially successful. Many talented dancers in Calcutta don’t get such exposure or support, or access to enlightened perspectives.
The programme presented traditional Kathak, the dance form Akram Khan — a London-based, acclaimed dancer and choreographer who hails originally from Bangladesh — grew up with. It also showed a departure from Kathak by means of contemporary dance. The evening opened with “Polaroid Feet”, a piece choreographed by Gauri Sharma Tripathi. This was followed by “Tarana”, choreographed by Khan’s guru, Pratap Pawar. The dazzling power of Khan’s movements, the eloquent play of his arms, his sharply delineated angular stance and mesmerizing chakkars created a magical, hypnotic feeling. “Unplugged” was an aesthetic dialogue between the dancer and the percussionist through complex rhythms and graceful movements. The artist had a splendid group of musicians — Faheem Mazhar (vocals), Karthik Raghunathan (violin), Sanju Sahai (tabla and vocals), Lucy Railton (cello) and Bernard Schimpelsberger (percussion) — who sat on the both sides of the stage, combining traditional Indian instruments with the cello and the drum. A black crumpled cloth as the backdrop was intermittently transformed by Fabiana Piccioli’s beautiful lighting into a cave, a cliff or a wall of darkness, enhancing the purity of Khan’s presentation.
The most remarkable performance began in pin-drop silence. It was by the guest artist, Fang-Ye-Sheu, who hails from Taiwan. Through her expansive and dramatic arm movements and supple bends, this exquisite dancer — a former principal dancer for the Martha Graham Dance Company — explored the character of the blindfolded Gandhari from the Mahabharat. Khan as Duryodhan created fascinating duet choreographic patterns with Sheu through rolls, slips, slides and bends. The way their bodies became instruments in themselves — with extraordinary contrasts of softness and sharpness owing to the music, light and sound — was unforgettable. Fascinated by Gandhari, Khan began this splendid choreography and gradually transformed it into a ‘story of movements’ through his unique personal interpretation.