iTMOi (in the mind of igor)

Photo by J Louis Fernandez

Let me preface this blog with some sage advice: It is definitely NOT wise to participate in an Akram Khan workshop not fighting 100% fit.

Ten minutes in and my body was overheating, working like a complex sprinkler system, as perspiration was dispersed from limbs flung with seeming abandon, interspersed with wide sweeping circular patterns, rolling wrists with articulated fingers, folding and unfolding, until forearms cramped, and legs bent in lunges so deep that two days later I am still paying the price. This was a special kind of rhythmic boot camp divisible by progressively augmented Indian Kathak beats.

I had done an Akram Khan workshop last October, when Akram was out with DESH, for Melbourne festival. I remember him demonstrating some text, a solo conversation between three characters, all spoken within a rigid complex rhythmic structure, and wondering whether a similar process could be developed and utilized substituting Kathak rhythms for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander ones, and what outcomes might be produced.

This time the workshop was organised by Kim Walker so only a select number of NAISDA students and guests were invited. Jose Agudo, the company’s choreographic assistant and rehearsal director, taught unaccompanied. The class was different. It was as physically demanding/ exacting as I remembered the first to be, if not more so, but in place of tight body manoeuvres with absolute linear trajectories, this class had a looser feel, more accommodating to differing body types, which remained a continued theme long after the initial warm up.

It all made sense after watching the company that evening. On impulse I walked from Bangarra studios(where the workshop was held) to the Opera House and purchased the last ticket- standing room only. I could feel remnants of lactic acid being replaced by delayed onset muscle soreness(DOMS), thighs already smarting at the touch, whilst leaning on the counter for support. Could I stand up for sixty-five minutes?

I needn’t have worried. The show was a maelstrom of light, sound, movement and colour on a spare set consisting of a rectangular metal frame, suspended from the ceiling, which flew in and out at intervals, and a swinging pendulum ball contributing to one of the last images, of procreation before rebirth, preceding the passing of the mantle from one sacrificial initiate to another.

Everytime I see one of Akram’s new works, I am inspired by his ability to morph and grow his choreographic voice. This show iTMOi (in the mind of igor) pays homage to Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring 100 years after it premiered to an uproarious reception in Paris. Rather than use the score outright in accompaniment, elements were utilized in the spoken text and in rhythmic counterpoint to a new score composed by Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost.

It plays like a surreal journey in dreaming state. Like a dream, narratives are juxtaposed against one another, genesis in the biblical context, with violent ritual, curious court scenarios, the presence of a beast, the delicate stamen of a flower twitching as it awaits pollination, to a man shackled and pulled in multitudinous directions, conjuring images of a body dancing over a musical staff, simultaneously evocative of sound waves. 

The physicality is raw. A finely honed scribble from bodies working without mirrors, relying on pure kinesthetic feedback (as stated on internet publicity) to produce a curious precision.

Jose spoke about Akram’s hesitation to use the word fusion but did talk about the company being comprised of a diverse cultural and performative mix, Jose himself having a strong background in Flamenco. I see on the program that the show was devised collaboratively and realise this is the key to his ongoing success, the formation and reformation of new possibilities through several working relationships.

If you missed iTMOi then be sure to catch the Akram Khan Company next time around. It’s well worth it.


Vicki Van Hout