Echoes & I Imagine – Aakesh Odedra Company: Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London, 9 March 2017

Ring my bell

Learning the ropes. Aakesh Odedra in Aditi Mangaldas’ Echoes. Photo by Mark Harvey

There’s no denying that Aakesh Odedra is a beautiful dancer – The Guardian newspaper even says he is on the front of the programme. On this double bill currently touring the UK, one piece demonstrated this superbly, the other less so.

Odedra’s grounding lies in Kathak and renowned Indian choreographer Aditi Mangaldas has, in Echoes, created for him a work that shows him at his best. Long golden braids full of small bells dangle in a cluster on one side of the stage while opposite is a small pile of them on the floor. Dusky forest lighting dapples down from above and branch-like paths of light zig-zag along the ground. The effect is extremely pretty. The symbolism of the braids was lost on me but it was what Odedra was up to among them that mattered.

His mastery of his chosen art is sublime; his timing is exquisite and his hands are to die for. He has a fluidity and assurance about what he’s doing that’s absolutely captivating to watch. His spins are devastatingly fast but appear unhurried and they included a one footed extravaganza that started almost in arabesque before quickly spiralling up into supplication to the heavens. Mangaldas has given Odedra a work that is perfectly paced and full of interest; ancient in tone yet modern in appearance. It really is wonderful.

On the other hand, Odedra’s own choreography has yet to scale such heights. Created in collaboration with spoken word artist Sabrina Mahfouz and circus practitioner David Poznanter, I Imagine was really more of a performance piece, with the dance mostly playing second fiddle to acting and the spoken word.

It’s a worthy examination of an immigrant experience in a newly adopted country but its construction is messy. The three excellent masks that Odedra dons appear to represent different generations of immigrants but it’s not clear who the maskless Odedra is, thereby rendering a large chunk of the choreography a bit meaningless. In fact, Odedra’s at his best in this when he’s mimicking his ancestors’ dyed-in-the-wool vocal accents.

There are some choreographic moments that catch the eye – the prostrating pink-shorted Jesus figure was a quite startling image – but, on the whole, there was too much shuffling around of suitcases and Mahfouz’s looped narrations added little. At least I Imagine offered up a rarely seen view of the wold and, anyway, Echoes made it worth attending all on its own.

Aakesh Odedra performs Echoes & I Imagine at Sadler’s Wells until 10 March 2017 before continuing its UK tour.

Gerard Davis

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