[I wrote this post about two weeks ago and never got around to posting it. Here it is, at long last!]
Akram Khan’s choreography affirms my existence. There’s something about the power in it—the rawness and the sometimes impossibly fast pace—that makes me feel lucky to be alive. Slamming into a movement, I can often barely breathe; my balance is unsteady; I risk falling. At the beginning of Vertical Road, I often feel as if I’m falling in space, landing only when I crash into a deep lunge, my left leg tenuously clenching its muscles to hold steady. The dance is a string of movement risks, of high-tension moments and sharp, painful breaths. When I throw my right arm over my chest and towards the back of the stage, my head following its pointed action, I am committed. In fact, if I don’t commit, I will fall; if I fall, I fail.
This might seem harsh, but to me, Akram Khan’s choreography is harsh. It is demanding; his dancers are demanding in their teaching. Lali recently told me that every time I do a certain movement in Kaash where I reach my right arm up in a diagonal away from my body, my left arm clasping my right elbow, I have to feel as if my right-hand fingers, hand, and arm are continuously reaching up, extending beyond their flesh. Even if this isn’t visible to an external viewer, I need to feel it. I need to expand, to go beyond. I need to take my movements so far that they ultimately snap back like a rubber band taken to its limits. This tension defines the movement; the choreography cannot exist without it. What a difficult task, this reaching is; it is a continuous struggle but an incredibly satisfying one.
When this happens, I simultaneously know myself and forget myself. The task is so engrossing that all I can do is breathe and grunt and be body and flesh, mindless and animalistic. On the other hand, my mind is activated intensely, approaching each movement problem in a matter of milliseconds; my neurons are firing at light speed (or I like to imagine they are). It is exactly this paradoxical splitting and combining of mind and body that is so life affirming, it makes me want to scream with approval just thinking about it. “Everything is one,” the movements seem to say. The spirituality in Khan’s ideas, the rhythms in his Kathak movements, the breath in his dancers’ bodies—they all are born out of the same organisms: living, thinking human beings. As I lunge to the ground, I know I’m one of them.