I’m so proud to work on Vertical Road. I’m so proud to work with Akram Khan. He’s a very good artist, director, friend and brother.
Have had good reviews so far. Here is what The Guardian said about the piece:
Vertical Road is the most extended and yet the most concentrated dance piece Akram Khan has made in a long time, and much of it represents a compelling return to form. The choreography gathers the eight dancers into churning vortices of movement, accentuated by pale lights and shadows. It tosses performers through the air on wild impulses of flight, unnerving in their boldness.
The dance is beautiful and harrowing, and, for the first half, draws us into a strange, potent world of memory and self-discovery. It centres on a single dancer, Salah El Brogy, who must pass through a large Perspex screen in order to enter the main stage, as if arriving from a distant epoch. High strings and the sound of a cold, bitter wind keen through Nitin Sawhney’s score like cosmic weather. And as El Brogy encounters the other seven dancers, grouped like statues of household gods, we see him as a man reconnecting with his ancestral past.
In the 70 minutes of dance that follow, there is no story as such – rather, Khan tries to use the dynamics of the choreography to forge an ambitious series of metaphors about what it means to be human.
The group dances, which suck Brogy inexorably into their momentum, are driven by a blind, throbbing energy and the insistent rhythms that beat through Sawhney’s music. Fabulously danced, they are viscerally thrilling displays of the pull of instinct, the power of the mass. Set against them are passages in which individuals are flung from the ensemble, to discover their own space and light. But while these passages presumably connect to the Vertical Road of the title – an image evoking Khan’s perception of the spiritual impulses that inspire us, as opposed to the physical ties that bind us – there comes a point halfway through when we start to need clearer signposts to follow the direction of Khan’s ideas.
This work, styled with the elemental beauty of Japanese butoh, looks spectacular, but the sense of large ideas being grappled with but never resolved becomes increasingly distracting. As the choreography evolves through a love duet and a tai chi combat dance, it’s harder to hold on to the ideas around El Brogy’s voyage of reconnection, or the duality between body and spirit.
Ruth Little, the credited dramaturge, hasn’t been doing her job. It matters a lot that in the final image, when El Brogy and the dancers pass back through the Perspex screen, leaving one man alone on stage, we have no idea whether the latter is stranded or saved. It’s a frustrating way to end a piece that starts out on such magisterial form.
I am now in Germany, getting ready for the Vertical Road performance here – September 29 until October 2.