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Indian-inspired modern dance in Beirut.

Summary: Emerging star Aakash Odedra offered a full house of spectators a unique fusion of classical Indian and contemporary British dance at Masrah al-Madina Saturday.

BEIRUT: Emerging star Aakash Odedra offered a full house of spectators a unique fusion of classical Indian and contemporary British dance at Masrah al-Madina Saturday. This second performance of "Rising" was staged as part of BIPOD, the Beirut International Platform of Dance.

Before venturing into contemporary dance, the 30-year-old Birmingham native trained in the classical Indian dance forms of kathak and bharatanayam in England and India.

Odedra's BIPOD performances reprised the 2011 debut production of his eponymous dance company. The four-part solo piece enlisted the work of renowned choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Akram Khan, and Russell Maliphant.

"I had to stop being just a two-dimensional kathak bharatanatyam dancer," Odedra said in a mini-documentary that accompanied the original production. "I had to open up a lot more," he added, noting that contemporary dance involved "a different language."

"Rising" opened with Odedra's self-choreographed "Nritta" (pure dance), the piece drawing most from kathak. In his artist statement, Odedra explained that the work merged the vigorous dance movement ascribed to the Hindu god Shiva with the softer circular moves of his wife Parvati.

Eschewing the heavy adornments typical of kathak dancers, Odedra emerged in a plain white tunic and trousers, standing in a narrow triangle of overhead light.

He soon launched into an up-tempo, rhythmic dance, arms outstretched in performative configurations for the duration of the piece. Occasional loud slaps of his feet accented the patter of percussion. At times, his rapid-fire kathak footwork precisely echoed each beat of the drum.

While the opening performance was initially lackluster, Odedra soon warmed up and his movements gained in fluidity, particularly as the music sped up.

The highlight of Saturday's show proved to be Odedra's beautifully tortured performance of "In the Shadow of Man," choreographed by Akram Khan.

A sharp departure from the regimented, up-tempo movement of the kathak-inspired opening performance, this second solo intended to explore the animal residing within the human.

"Kathak masters have often used animals as forms of inspiration," Odedra remarked in his artist's statement, "even to the point of creating a whole repertoire based on the qualities, movements, and rhythms of certain animals."

Opening in darkness, "In the Shadow of Man" finds Odedra crouched in the upstage left corner, bare-chested, only his back to the audience illuminated.

He suddenly let out a screeching scream, activating an ominous, repetitive beat, pounding as a baseline throughout his performance. The dancer went on to emit a series of barking, high-pitched squeals, conjuring up an angry, injured animal.

His body remained curled and contorted, his arms twisted behind his back even as he finally rose up. The dancer stalked the stage, his torso and arms rotating in full circles, in a nod perhaps to his kathak origins. His torso remained always bent -- whether forward, backward, or bucking from side to side as he fell and rose again, dramatically evoking an animal nursing its wounds.

The official intermission was placed after the performance of "In the Shadow of Man" but, in fact, each 10-15 minutes solo was followed by a break of equal duration.

If Odedra's interpretation of four choreographers was able to cast a spell on the audience, it was quickly broken as the lights rose and audience members began chatting.

While the purpose of the frequent breaks was unclear -- only the last solo used physical props of any kind -- the stop-and-start pattern gave the show a disjointed feeling and ruined any momentum "Rising" might have achieved.

Light continued to be a central consideration in the final two solos. Choreographed by Russell Maliphant, "Cut" was a disappointment. This was in part because Odedra and the linear lighting were so heavily obscured by stage smoke -- a feature throughout "Rising," but particularly egregious during this solo.

Odedra again appeared in a triangular light projection, accompanied by what sounded like the distant noise of a construction site, later joined by a muffled chanting. A short thin line of light appeared at his feet, marking the bottom side of the triangle. He traced a full circle with one arm, the line illuminating only his hands.

The triangle of light was augmented by more triangles and parallel lines of light, expanding his performance space. Odedra continued to trace full circles with his outstretched arms. At times his body twirled and arms spiraled so quickly that his movement blurred. As with the previous pieces, his movements eventually slowed as he settled back into the original triangle. This time, only his hands were illuminated by the thin line of light.

Choreographed by Cherkaoui, the magical "Constellation" opened with a wandering, haunting melody that conjured a sense of wonderment. Wearing the white garb from "Nritta," the dancer appeared amid the darkness holding what looked like an orb of light, before releasing it to bounce wildly across the stage.

He repeated the gesture with what turned out to be a series of giant light bulbs suspended from the ceiling. While each of the 15 bulbs settled into a swing, they remained unsynchronized, as Odedra proceeded to slowly twirl among them. As they grew brighter, he reconfigured his body, maneuvering around and below the lights in a beautiful, though rather brief, ballet.

The lights and music eventually dropped, leaving Odedra to take the last lit bulb and hold it beside his head like a lamp. Moving to the front of the stage, he swung the light to create the effect of brilliantly burning circle, ending with the rapid patter of kathak-inspired footwork.

As the music resumed, he clutched the bulb to his chest and, moving backward, sat cross-legged. Setting the light down before himself, his hands curled as if conjuring something from the air.

BIPOD continues Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Jan Martens' "Ode to the Attempt" at Theatre Montaigne. For more info, see http://www.maqamat.org/#/bipods/2015.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Apr 20, 2015
Words:1007
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