Akram Khan – Sadler’s Well

Akram Khan- A String of Rites

What would it be like to be in the mind of Igor Stravinsky, classical music’s enfant terrible of the twentieth century? Harrowing, disorienting, exhilarating, apocalyptic? Without a doubt.

Part of Sadler’s Wells’ A String of Rites, iTMOi (In the Mind of Igor) is Akram Khan’s latest work and the second of three commissions celebrating the centenary of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Wednesday being 100 years to the day Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes premiered the masterpiece and incited riots at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris.

Including an original score by Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost, iTMOi was performed by Khan’s eponymous Company of eleven dancers.

akram khan - a string of rites

Although critics complain that the work abandoned Stravinsky’s composition – meandered, hyperbolised, confounded – we should remember that his Rite followed neither a clear-cut plotline nor conventional structure (instead it broke every rule of classical rhythm), finding sole inspiration in the augurs of Spring.

Khan had his work cut out for him when he was commissioned to pay homage to perhaps the most prevalent touchstone of twentieth-century shock and awe. After all, what is an ode to The Rite of Spring if it doesn’t leave people scratching their heads?

Certain signposts remain from Stravinsky’s expressive original: idol worshippers gyrating in syncopated movements (that Arthur Miller-esque cliché of isolated ritualistic dancing), the simultaneously angular and billowing, epileptic grace first fashioned by the dancer Vaslav Nijinksy.

Dichotomies of freedom and bondage, beauty and ugliness from Stravinsky’s thematic catalogue come across in central figures and symbols: Catherine Schaub Abkarian as an ashen bride, Ching-Ying Chien as a sacrificial lamb, Andrej Petrovic as a faunish horned creature.

akram khan - a string of rites

iTMOi opens on a scene of an apparently possessed evangelical preacher howling an inscrutable tirade laced with garbled Biblical jargon. Khan’s locating of Stravinsky in the macabre allegory of Abraham and Isaac exploits the fertile ground of hellfire and brimstone for exploring spiritual asphyxiation.

The visual building blocks of iTMOi (costume, lighting and set design) saturate its overall effect: a heady mix of bass, synth, live strings and electronica over starched crinoline, tulle and rags of reflective white and blazing red.

In one scene dancers traipse around Abkarian, closing in on her as a sickening yellow sheen descends. At times it can be hard to forget iTMOi‘s dancers are not cogs in a wheel, they are so finely tuned and receptive. As if reminding us they are living breathing beings, the final scene presents two bodies writhing underneath an ominous swinging pendulum, perhaps their mutual heartbeat.

akram khan- a string of ritesakram khan - a string of rites

A String of Rites will be completed by RIOT Offspring (8 June), which will see a cast of 80 lay participants exploring their perceptions of rites, rituals and riots and will be accompanied by a live orchestra playing Stravinsky’s original score.

All photographs by J Louis Fernandez, courtesy Sadler Well’s

-Rachel Maggart

A String of Rites

RIOT Offspring