As we take our seats in the auditorium for Inked, the first of tonight’s two-dance programme, revealed in the dim light of the performance space is a single white silk drape, ceiling to floor, with the shape of a Gormley-ish man cut from it. Now in full darkness, unmistakably Kathak foot stamps can be heard, as the dancer’s own dark form appears through the shadow man, beating a growing foot rhythm that becomes a fluid locomotion that transports a seemingly static Aakash Odedra across the width of the stage on a beam of light.
Choreographed for Odedra by Damien Jalet, the now kneeling man in shirt and tied langot pants, begins to mark his arms with black ink characters. The shapes are deliberately formed. He then links hands and undulating from both shoulders, deceives the eye into believing his arms are boneless. The effect brings a ghoulishly fascination and I have to snap myself back into the room on more than one occasion to break away from it.
Now falling to sit in a solid lotus position, he’s like a street beggar, a double amputee as the legs (as they are) to the knee, perambulate the dancer around the stage in frustrated, stunted fashion. The programme says the inked decorations refer to Odedra’s grandmother who was symbolically, bodily marked in the service of protecting her family from damaging forces. Might her marks be powerful enough to protect the legs of a dancer?
A little later, Odedra kneels forward and removes his shirt. On wildly moving, gesturing shoulder blades are painted eyes. His hairy head could be a snout now, his forehead snuffling the ground. The gently humorous scene draws some ripples of laughter, which his shoulder-eyes glance towards, drawing a little more.
Then changing the mood, he throws his body forward and a stream of ink spews forth. The atmosphere shifts to calm and in a range of body extensions with his inked extremities as styli, he adds lavish ink marks both to himself and the white floor sheet. Atmospheric music by Loscil is sparingly used throughout, helping to change mood and direction as needed. At the conclusion, the calm hypnotic shapes as safety in patterns, family and tradition is satisfactorily acknowledged.
Raised in Birmingham, Aakash Odedra was found to be dyslexic while still quite young. Finding regular, written learning a challenge, once discovered, dance became his key language of communication. Now an Ambassador for the charity Dyslexia Action, the headline dance Murmur 2.0, choreographed by Lewis Major and Odedra, explores the condition and its perceived, warped and exaggerated realities.
Five silk drapes now, encircled by a number of electric fans. A man sits, working things out, counting out loud One, Two Three, Four, then in Urdu, Ek, Do, Teen, Chaar. He makes mistakes, he’s slow. Hand shapes correspond with each number then a hand stops working, goes dead. As inert as a dead bird, the wrist hangs lifeless. The dancer speaks to us.
“How long does it take to correct a mistake? 10 seconds, 10 minutes, 10 years, 21 years?”
He makes mistakes with his legs, his body. He walks on bent toes to squeamish responses from the audience. That’s not the right way to walk. He’s learning to spell his name out loud: A – K – A – S – H, but we learn he only discovered at 21 that there was an extra A in AAKASH despite it being there all the time.
After ceremonially straightening the silk drapes to create a partition, a screen, all of a sudden a swirl of small, animated birds fly upwards and over him. This is when we discover tonight’s multi-media possibilities bringing with it a heightened fascination.
Dancing behind this diaphanous partition, real-time visual tricks expand the dancer’s reality and his self-awareness. An ingenious camera technology tracks Odedra’s every move to play it a split second later against the screen as a scratchy, moving line drawing that grows as big as a Yeti. The variations at play are downright exciting and its thrilling to see dance, the art form, unafraid of appearing polluted. The soundtrack by Nicki Wells and music supervisor Nitin Sawhney, is strong and imposing but has sadness.
Finding some calm, and moving towards the climax with a metaphorical sun setting through lighting, a single A4 sheet of paper falls from the heavens, following by more to create a downpour. Catching each one of them, Odedra is no longer frightened by the page but there is still room for overwhelm that comes when all fans are turned on creating a whirlwind of literacy. Having found the once missing A of his name, he loses it again amidst the swirling updrafts, causing a frantic panic. With a dark stage, vortexing blue lit smoke and a nightmare of projected chalk drawings that show a bird in a cage, then out free, followed by an almost Hitchcockian raging murmur of birds on the wing, our dancer is like Saint-Exupéry’s, The Little Prince that I see referenced in the chalk drawings, his long scarf outstretched with birds flying on leashes.
The struggle to remain in control despite not interpreting word shapes on the page as others do, to fly with the birds and keep in formation, is expressed in the overwhelming, heightened emotions, as everything comes gently to rest again as this wildly imaginative dance expression draws to its end. As the appreciative audience is loud with cheers and awe, Aakash Odedra Company’s second visit to Newport this year further secures their reputation as a bright light in UK Dance.