Event: Gnosis, dance, Akram Khan, King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Review by pupils of The Royal High School, as part of Herald Young Critics.
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Eleanor Young: four stars.
When the lights dim in the King's this time around, it will be 12 years since Akram Khan's first full-length work premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival. Yet Gnosis was not choreographed to disappoint.
In a sizzling firecracker of a piece, we witness a complicated, emotionally volatile and deeply moving performance from the guest artist, Fang-Yi Sheu. But this is not a one woman show. Far from it.
Akram Khan, the everlasting force behind the company, dances with the power and ambition of a man 20 years his junior. The precise, clear-cut moves of 12 years hence may be fading, but this time around Khan has come into his own. His arms windmill round a face deep in the mist of concentration, and as his heels tap, and hands writhe and contort, the control he exerts is something truly outstanding.
But the Mahabharata is a fable that doesn't scribe to dance alone. To call this partnership between music and dance a marriage would be wrong - utterly wrong. Yet it is not a blend. Nor amalgamation, synthesis, or union.
They are one. Khan strikes Sheu? Stick strikes drum. Khan strikes floor? Bow strikes string. And so it goes. The passion put in by each artist shines on their brow as a beacon of how much this performance means to them.
It seems to me that the passion and sweat was worth it. Was it lacking anything? Yes. A booster seat so I could actually see what was going on.
Emma Wright: four stars.
Non-verbal love stories are so rarely told in a way that an audience is compelled into the tragedy. Akram Khan, and his story of 'Gnosis', is a passionate tale that helps to reinvent the meaning of contemporary dance.
Within the performance, Khan is effortless. His hand movements and spins radiate elegance and grace most dancers can only dream of, and Fang-Yi Sheu complements Khan in a refined way.
His body tells stories that are unexplained, and yet understood. This piece is rebellion in its purest form - breaking the boundaries of traditional Kathak and creating something more profound within audiences hearts.
The beginning feels stilted through the lack of music, creating a slow and paced performance, and forming an idea of the dancers being out-of-touch with the audience. With the absence of music, the spectators are unsure and it is within these moments that you are released from the spell of Kathak dance and reminded of the importance of music within the arts. However, the mutual expression of passion from the dancers reflects the individuality and the danger of the nonverbal act of communication.
The lighting, the costumes, the music - they all help to create the dangerous and dark tone that is so profoundly haunting throughout this wonderfully choreographed piece. The musicians really display Khan's message of the significant relationship between dance and music, and this performance reaches its potential so naturally, that you wonder if it really is a performance at all.
Catriona Higgins: four stars.
Gnosis, by Akram Khan is a wonderful dance performance which combines classical Indian dancing with contemporary. The show begins with two more classical Indian performances by Khan named Polaroid Feet and Tarana. Khan dances flawlessly here. The simple backdrop means that there is nothing to take away from the dancing, in particular, Khan's footwork and distorting speediness of his turns.
Following these two performances, is Unplugged, an improvisational piece which illustrates to the audience just how well Khan and his band work together. Khan's musicians play around with their instruments, creating clever and stylish beats and tones. Khan readily responds to the music, wearing ankle bells which reminds the audience of just how elegantly he can carry out a complicated and delicate series of steps.
Gnosis is a story inspired by the character in the Mahabarata, the wife of the blind king who blindfolds herself to share his struggles. Interestingly Khan dances the Queen's performance, while Fang-Yyi Sheu plays the male role of the King. The duet that they perform shows the struggle for power as Khan intersperses dances of obedience with dances of rebellion to his partner. The performance ends with Gandhari's death by fire. Khan creates an erratic jerking movement throughout his body which poetically symbolises Gandhari's anguish. Here Khan reminds the audience of his impeccable dancing abilities as well as his imaginative and instigative choreographic vision.
Stephanie Hogg: four stars.
Akram Khan's Gnosis is a captivating revival that has combined a perfect balance of contemporary dance and traditional Kathak. Gnosis is based on the story of Queen Gandhari, who emphatically wears a blindfold to share her husband's lack of sight. There were six talented musicians that worked perfectly together to create a thrilling performance that could change pace smoothly, and the lighting was perfect in portraying the metaphor of being blind to the world's problems and the effect this has on a person.
The dancers, Khan and Fang-Yi Sheu, were the most captivating part of the show. Khan's dancing has moments of delicacy that is almost ethereal and fragile, yet can seamlessly transition into dance that is passionate and almost violent merely seconds later. Sheu's performance, too, is wonderfully precise, and she and Khan's almost trance-like movements complement each other perfectly from the moment they appear on stage together.
Like every show, however, Gnosis is not perfect. The duet between Sheu and Khan, whilst dramatic and beautifully synchronised much like every other aspect of the show, occasionally falls flat in its symbolic intention and narrative. This is possibly because of the ambiguity of Sheu's and Khan's roles which - even with a knowledge of the story the dance portrays - is quite difficult to decipher.
No fault can be found in the dancing nor the music and symbolic lighting, however, and that is why Gnosis is one of the best shows I have seen at an Edinburgh festival this year.
Callum McNie: four stars
I entered the theatre with decidedly low expectations (I'm not a massive fan of dance) and left with a fantastic impression of the Indian kathak discipline. "Gnosis" casts Akram Khan and Fang-Yi Sheu as a blind king and his queen respectively, and explores the story of the Mahabharata through rhythm, percussion and Khan's inimitable style. The three distinct features that make up the first half - "Polaroid Feet", "Tarana" and "Unplugged" - showcase the masterful instrumentalists, with whom Khan works in unison, to great effect. Every movement Khan makes is executed with scalpel-sharp precision and the aggressive thudding of the drums and tabla soon becomes the heartbeat of the audience members. The ankle bells Khan wears create a tinny chirping sound, perhaps evocative of crickets basking in the sun on the banks of the Ganges. However, it is during the second half of the performance, where Fang-Yi Sheu joins the fray, that "Gnosis" becomes truly mesmerising. From the moment that Khan begins to guide his blindfolded queen around the stage there is superb chemistry between the two, which only further improves the atmosphere created by the instrumentalists in the first act. A single spotlight shines down upon them for much of this part, and when it eventually turns blood red the airwaves are splintered by a cacophony of percussion as the performance draws to a close. Akram Khan is a true master of kathak, and Fang-Yi Sheu injects power and precision into her role as the blindfolded queen.
Rachael Cameron, four stars.
There is no doubt that Akram Khan's pathway to success has been a testing journey, but what have his achievements really come down to? Talent? Luck? Well, if the breath-taking performance of Gnosis - his latest production - is anything to go by, it is safe to say that the hard work has paid off for him in the best of ways.
Khan - who was encouraged to dance at an early age by his mother - starred in his first production at just 13; the Mahabharata. Since then he has mostly continued in an upwards spiral, always managing to flavour his work with at least a hint of kathak. A setback caused by injury was a possible downfall, yet despite this, Khan's improvisation and determination allowed him to continue pursuing new levels of accomplishment.
Through many fascinating collaborations with the likes of the incredible dancer/choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the National Ballet of China, he has welcomed us into the world of Gnosis.
To describe the overall production in one word- hypnotic. From the unbelievably precise synchronisation between an extremely talented group of musicians to the magnificent moves of Khan and his guest artist Fang-Yi Sheu, there seemed to be a continuous atmosphere of awe crashing over the audience in waves.
Gnosis manages to connect music and dance in an inspiring and magical way while still bringing an interactive side to the show. This included Khan taking the time to crack a few jokes between dance numbers, perfectly conveying a sense of realism that we all crave.
Jeehan Ashercook: five stars.
Akram Khan's performance of Gnosis was a revival of the mesmerizing story of the Indian epic, Mahabharata and Gandhari, done through dance- a language unique to the body. In accomplishing so, he has mingled both ancient and modern, in the classical Indian Kathak and contemporary dance roots.
Along with his fellow dancer Fang-Yi Sheu, Khan eloquently narrates the story of Gandhari, the wife of a blind king and goddess of intelligence, who blindfolds herself for life, to share the sightless misery of her husband's. Thus, the dance is riddled with scenes of blindness. This is particularly evident through the stage lighting, which is rather dim, as well as the evolving shadows. Gandhari's tragic death is also elaborately portrayed in the dancers flexible yet elegant curves and swift twirls, which embody a fire devouring the queen alive, the agony that accompanies it, and finally the emergence of the soul from her languished body.
Furthermore, the sound element contained in the music has added to the impact of the story as various instruments have been played, such as the violin, cello, tabla, mridang, percussions, and ankle bells creating uplifting melodies, all of which compose a vivid setting. The dance movements however, master the music, when slow and delicate the music is likewise calm; but when quick and nimble, an audible heartbeat and throbbing sensation vehemently erupt.
Above all, Khan has delivered a commendable masterpiece that embarks us on an indulging oriental journey, in which the central thrust is down to spiritual knowledge.
Sophie Malcom, four stars.
Akram Khan's Gnosis is a dynamic embedded in polarity, with a compelling, tightly-controlled synthesis of storytelling and dance. Instantly, from the controlled pulses of Queen Gandhari's heartbeat composed with the absence of light, the audience is enthralled by the performance.
Inspired by the Hindu Mahabharata, every beat of music carried depth and enlightenment. The fluid snake-like motion of Sheu, portraying Gandhari, was enhanced with the soulful music that powerfully connected the audience and the performers and thoughtfully spoke the storyline.
It started with Sheu dancing with eerie, snake-like motions. As the light gradually increased, her movements were metamorphosed into a sharp contrast between slow, prolonged gesticulations and sharp, sudden motions.
The timing of the dancers was impeccable. While dancing as a duo or even singly, Khan and Sheu moved extremely precisely, despite the rapid rate of movement. The whole stage was used, and the variety in their movements kept the audience captivated. Watching Khan's incredibly tight and fast spins, and furious choreography, was mystical for the audience.
When the lighting turned red, symbolising Gandhari's death in the forest fire, Sheu's movements became increasingly frantic and fast paced. Her strong and controlled dying motions were hauntingly beautiful and electrifying.
The ending of Gnosis was a fascinating conclusion to the performance. The darkness closes in on Khan while the music gradually draws to a close. Khan's movements became extremely agile and accelerated as he demonstrated for the final time his fantastic dancing ability.
Afton Moran: five stars.
The culturally diverse Edinburgh International Festival 2014 saw the beauty of music and dance brought together in The King's Theatre on Tuesday 19th August with the mesmerising production of Gnosis performed by Akram Khan.
The first half of the show began with a more intimate dance focusing on the collaboration of each element, footwork, percussion, vocals and how they almost "share a language" in the words of Akram Khan. The music, dance and lighting merged together creating an astounding opening that effortlessly engaged the audience.
Gnosis was the story told after the interval, having been acquainted with the performers, where you are near hypnotised by a single silent dancer until she is joined by a perfectly in sync Khan. The fluidity of the dancers is admirable alongside the precise timing of the musicians and together they draw your full concentration as they appear to be performing on instincts alone.
Although I have a limited knowledge of dance, I can say in confidence that I believe anyone would find it difficult to fault this performance. The climax of this devastating myth left the audience in awe and it is no wonder it took a few seconds to let story sink in before the audience gave a well deserved applause. The power and energy put into Gnosis could be felt immensely by the audience and it is certainly an intense yet refreshing experience of a different culture that will not easily be forgotten.
I would have no problem giving an appropriate five stars out of five.
Coreen Grant, four stars.
Picture this; a silent theatre, surrounding a dark stage. A single blue spotlight reveals a statuesque, frozen form. Smoke swirls unhurriedly, and the atmosphere is one of hushed awe, tension building. Steadily, like a flower unfurling, a languorous, liquid movement begins without you even realising it. A drumbeat breaks the silence, soon joined by a cello, and as the music builds, the dancer proceeds to turn, sharply and swiftly, with an exact precision that comes as a shock. Bells on his feet stamp out a percussion cadence that accentuates the tempo as it rises to a crescendo; the drummers' hands and violinist's bow are a blur, and the dancer whirls on the stage in a blistering combination of inner turmoil and jubilation that holds the audience in an iron grip of intimate divulgence.
"It's about music and sound… and rhythm", Khan himself explains during a brief introduction. Melodious and destructive, graceful and angular, modern and traditional; it would be wrong to think of the performance of music and dance as two separate things. When the Khan Company performs, it is a conversation between the two, a dialogue built upon mutual respect, admiration, and understanding. The ancient tale Gnosis tells of a blind man and his empathetic wife is captured breathtakingly in a duo between Khan and Fang-Yi Sheu, in both perfect synchronicity and stark contrast. The climax, bathed in the scarlet light of love, anguish and rage, is a crashing culmination of upheaval, both mental and physical, and self-transformation that will have your heart racing to the rhythm.
Kenneth Holburn, four stars.
As I made my way to the famous Kings Theatre in Edinburgh, I must admit my expectations for the show ahead were particularly negative. Dance performances had never really been too much of my interest - especially the art of Kathak dancing. However, in hindsight, the show was memorising and surprisingly entertaining.
Firstly, the man himself, Akram Hossain Khan. The way he made his body glide around the stage with such perfect finesse and impressive endurance is nothing short of exceptional and one cannot help but admire, with a glint of envy, how exceptionally gifted a performer he is. The speed and grace of his movement, combined with the gentle ring of the bells on his feet, were truly spellbinding. Not only did Khan impress me with his ability on the stage, but also with the genuine personality he possesses. I could not help but notice how much admiration he was showing throughout the performance to his musicians and his fellow dancer. Overall, Akram Khan: a terrific performer and an equally terrific gentleman.
Tribute must be paid to the musicians sat on both sides of the stage - traditional Asian instruments combined with cello, violin and taiko. When Khan took time to engage with the audience he stated that the musicians were "mathematicians" and, once again, I was sceptical at first of this comparison but as the show went on I was amazed at the complexity of the rhythms these performers were playing with such perfect synchronisation to Khan's own movements, it was captivating.
To conclude, Khan and his fellow performers demonstrated beautifully that they are the master craftsmen of the story-telling art of Kathak and are most definitely worth going to see.
Poppy Apter, four stars.
Akram Khan performed the Mahabharata for the first time at the tender age of 13, and now, having hit 40, he is here to perform it again. Although Khan is considered old in the dance world, age appears to cause no hindrance to his vigour and physical ability.
It is clear from his face, as well as his expert movements, that this is his passion and he is thoroughly enjoying the performance. Gnosis is based on part of the epic Hindu poem, which tells the story of a mother who blindfolded herself in order to empathise with her blind husband, the war her family fight in which results in the death of her 1000 sons, and ultimately, the mother burning to death in a forest fire.
The story is backed by quick drums and ominous strings that fuel the energy bouncing back and forth between Khan and his dance partner Fang - Yi Sheu, making for an immediate and thrilling work.
During the Classical Kathak recital in the first half, Khan tells us how, despite failing maths three times, he feels in touch with rhythm, and his understanding is clear when he demonstrates not only his physical, but musical ability too, in a call and answer session with the musicians.
He describes the relationship between music and dance as "like a conversation" and this could not be more apparent in the performance, as the two aspects merge making for a sophisticated and capturing experience.
Gnosis is a fine example of kathak dance, combining both intimacy and power.