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Akram Khan Company – Portraits in Otherness | Lilian Baylis Studio

Maya Jilan Dong - Photo by Julien Martinez Leclerc
Maya Jilan Dong – Photo by Julien Martinez Leclerc

As Akram Khan danced a full-length solo performance piece for the last time in the main house of Sadler’s Wells next door in the Lilian Baylis Studio a new chapter in the history of his company was being unveiled as a world premiere to a packed out audience.

Curated by Akram Khan and Akram Khan’s Company’s producer, Farooq Chaudhry, Portraits in Otherness is the platform they have created for solo works performed by four talented early-career dance artists. Two pieces, by Maya Jilan Dong and Dickson Mbi, are showcased for the first two nights before giving way to the work of Joy Alpuerto Ritter and Ching -Ying Chien for the final two nights.

None of these artists can be identified by any particular dance genre or form other than contemporary. Their choreography incorporates many dance languages, exploring the concept of Otherness as an opportunity, to bring what is finest from near and far, of modern times and old, to expand us all.

This is a review of the opening performances by Maya Jilan Dong and Dickson Mbi.

Whip, opens Portraits. choreographed and danced by Maya Jilan Dong, it is an aesthetically stunning piece of extremes. Taking the audience from precarious balance to frenzy before showing us a different, injured poise.

Whip takes its inspiration from the whip dance, one of the most popular folk dances of the Bai – an ethnic minority living in South-West China. There are no whips. There’s a stick smattered with red as if traces of new blood to eyes looking from the West. But in Chinese culture red stands for happiness and good luck. It’s black linked to bad fortune, sadness, disaster and suffering. Both colours are represented to great effect by Costume and Set Designer, Marie Cantenys, who describes drama from the start with a moving river of red as a train Miss Dong trails. Black is removed and dropped on the floor but it’s written on her and around her equally with red. She dances in both these colours whether as a woman of containment or as a warrior. This is a story of what may be described as the universal feminine. Temple bells sound and she’s become a goddess, knows everything. With her body and her stick, she describes how balance after emotion may be painfully won. The shadows are lovely on the far side of the stage.

One point, it’s not possible for everyone to watch the seconds of painful transformation from frenzy to control towards the end of the piece because it takes place at the front of the stage which is hidden from some of the steeply ranked seats of the studio.

The music composed and played by Joanne Clara is gorgeous and important to the success of this work. It’s a clever combination of Western classical music with echoes and undertones of traditional Chinese. It was a cello that Miss Clara was playing, sometimes replicating the sound of the Gehu, a Chinese instrument that’s a combination of a double bass and cello. What a surprising pleasure it was to watch from behind the visible movement and strength of the muscles of her arms and back as she played. A most imaginative view of a musician.

Clouds of red float across the studio space for happiness when the interval starts.

Duende by choreographer and Dancer, Dickson Mbi, is a different piece. Stripped back, just lights to create an infinite landscape of desert for him to dance through. And what a dancer Mr Mbi is. Having studied at the London Contemporary Dance School he’s been nominated as the Times Breakthrough Artist award at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards 2018 in addition to garnering other accolades. He’s a performer of astonishing strength and agility, communicating delicacy and struggle with his choreography. His hip-hop skills inform the beauty of the language that’s this dance. Here he’s an Atlas struggling with the cares of the world. In particular the desire to hide away.

All you have to do is watch him and marvel, knowing you’re seeing an artist who’s going to be very significant in the future of contemporary dance.

No wonder Akram Khan wanted to develop and show this work. There’s talent rising.

4 stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

Portraits in Otherness is a new platform initiated by Akram Khan and his producer Farooq Chaudhry, seeking to transfer the intangible values and philosophy of Akram Khan Company to a new generation of talents.

They invite four highly charismatic and distinctive dance artists to present their solo work: Joy Alpuerto Ritter, Ching-Ying Chien, Dickson Mbi and Maya Jilan Dong, each embodying the echoes and primitive beauty of many dance languages both learned and inherited.

Akram Khan Company — Portraits in Otherness
5 – 8 Jun 2018
Lilian Baylis Studio
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R

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