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Review of The Pursuit of Now at Buta Festival of Azerbaijan Arts

Akram Khan by Jean-Louis Fernandez
Akram Khan by Jean-Louis Fernandez

The title says it all ‘The Pursuit of Now’ is the best definition of improvisation and improvisation is the basis of this collaboration between the jazz pianist Shahin Novrasli and the dancer Akram Khan, joined by Honji Wang one evening and the duo Rootless Root the next, improvised to set music, followed by jazz improvisation on piano,bass and drums as well as two Azeri instruments, the tar and the khanende.

Improvisation is a technique that can provide some of the most exciting moments in the theatre, as well as some of the most disastrous. Even the most skilled performer – and these performers are exceptionally skilled – is open to risk. It is necessary to be so fully in the here and now that the performer and the audience can trust the risk. Together they put aside their fear of failure and step into the unknown. What has been created is a unique event which will never come again. Just to watch the risk is thrilling and with a master like Akram Khan, it is an extraordinary experience.

The programme began in silence like a held breath. Then the dancers appeared out of a row of lights, Khan curled into himself, his partner, Honji Wang, rising up like a waving and twisting plant weaving out of the base of his curled figure. He rose and they began to move. They moved without touching; they seemed to pull each other across the stage by means of an electric current between them. Their duet was charged with a sense of connection although they only touched at the very end when their flexed feet rested briefly together.

I must add that when I saw the second performance, this time with Linda Kapetanea, I saw a completely different dance. The dancers moved in different relationship to each other and to the music. This time their moves were more like charged challenges tossed from one to the other. Only the last moment- the touching of their flexed feet, was the same and even that was different in quality. Khan and Wang touched feet gently but definitively as if coming to a decision; Khan and Kapetanea touched more quickly and casually. The opening and closing were the only set movements; the dances were totally different in every way and each made a powerful statement of its own.

After this, it was the turn of the musicians and a long bluesy interval of jazz improvisation that was sensuous and evocative and had the same on the edge quality as the dancing The musicians – all of them outstanding- carried the audience into a sinuous, insistent grip, the shifting rhythms aided by Arslan and Nurlan Novrasli on the Azeri instruments which brought a new colour to the programme Shahin Novrasli is not only an exciting pianist but also sang, his voice wide ranging piercing and visceral

I enjoyed the wit and flexibility with which Honji Wang played with the music as if in a dialogue with each instrument in a series of contractions, release and turns as if she was trying them all on to see how they felt.

For me, the highlight of the evening was Akram Khan’s solo toward the end. The piece opened with his darkly clad figure stretched against a murky background with a glimmer of light; then the dance began with a seemingly endless reach that pulled the body almost out of itself and then contracted, twisted, rose into the air, extended, fell and used the ground as he had used the air, dazzling both in skill and imagination.
There seems to be nothing he can’t do with his body. The music stopped; he continued to move in the silence to his own inner rhythm until the music returned as if it couldn’t resist and he allowed it to rejoin him. The piece was both frightening and hypnotic.

Altogether, it was an extraordinary evening and created between performers and audience a mutual feeling that only happens at events where the audience feels as if they too were part of the creative moment. The standing ovation was totally deserved

Why was the theatre not packed ? Why was there not a queue at the box office? Why were people not fighting to see this? This is major work and we who were there were privileged to be part of it.

4 stars

Review by Kate Beswick

The Buta Festival 2015 – a celebration of Azeri arts and culture across London – with a two-night dance special at Sadler’s Wells.
The Pursuit of Now – a new collaboration between one of Britain’s finest male contemporary dancers, Akram Khan and international jazz pianist Shahin Novrasli. For two nights only Akram and fellow dancers improvised to set pieces with Shahin and his musicians at London’s premiere dance venue, during the final weeks of Buta, which has been running since November 2014.

The festival, which has brought Azeri artists, musicians and performers to London, has included events and exhibitions at Ronnie Scott’s, the Royal Albert Hall, the Saatchi Gallery and Sotheby’s.

Farooq Chaudhry, producer of Akram Khan Company, said: “Exposing audiences to artistic talent from unfamiliar parts of the world to London is very much at the heart of my work and I am thrilled to be involved in the Buta Festival, for this unique chance for dance and music enthusiasts to see Akram’s exciting new collaboration with Shahin.

The Pursuit Of Now
2nd Buta Festival of Azerbaijan Arts
Sadlers Wells Theatre
17th to 18th March 2015

Wednesday 25th March 2015

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