“I am a classical dancer. I have been trained as a classical dancer, but I cannot say that my ‘religion’ is a style, a technique, or a tradition. What I can say is, that the ‘place’ where I perform, whatever style I perform, feels strongly a ‘sacred place’. The stage … a monster … my sacred monster.” Sylvie Guillem
“I have spent my life studying and performing kathak. It is the source of my creative process. Working with Sylvie Guillem is an exciting new challenge, giving me the opportunity to explore another classical dance language with one of its greatest exponents, and as a result unearth the things that are most often lost between the classical and modern world. ” Akram Khan
Sacred Monsters is essentially an intimate work about two dominant figures in the world of dance who, weary from their life-long quest for perfection -and taking a break from it- reach out to each other from across their different worlds and embark on a new journey in pursuit of a common ground. Akram Khan, renowned for combining elements of classical Kathak (a spiritual experience, one of the eight forms of Indian classical dances, usually involving a lot of footwork) with modern dance, thus resetting the boundaries between the two worlds. And Sylvie Guillem, the classical ballet-turned-contemporary dancer, whose inimitable style, remarkable physique and strongly opinionated head, shot her to super stardom, where she remains firmly today. At 48, she is as mesmerizing and astonishingly agile, as ever.
Although actually a contemporary work, the structure of Sacred Monsters is classical: two solos followed by a pas de deux. First came Khan’s energetic, spinning solo of Kathak dance, rhythm emphasized by the hundreds of bells tied around his ankles, choreographed by Gauri Sharma Tripathi, one of UK’s leading Kathak artists. Then Guillem’s solo by Lin Hwai-min, founder of the highly acclaimed Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, a modern dance group based in Taiwan. There were playful intervals of teasing and hair pulling (literally) and nostalgic exchanges of childhood dreams and grown up worries: Guillem’s concerns about being futile (to which I can totally relate), Khan’s about becoming bald (here not so much)… But it was with their duet, choreographed by Khan, that the performance really took off; two arresting figures coming together, merging, finding a common language and making it their own.
The choreographies were accompanied by musicians and vocalists performing right there on the stage, a melodic mixture of east and west. The ensemble was interestingly juxtaposed with the bright white/grey minimal set, designed by Shizuka Hariu, a set designer and architect based in Brussels, London and Japan. The bright white lighting concept by Finnish Mikki Kunttu, made sure we missed none of the action; perhaps a bit too bright, it had a slightly blinding effect on me.
The minimal set was very much in contrast with the art deco style of the theatre:
The style is in the details:
Sacred Monsters opens on 28 November 2013 in Tokyo.
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
15, avenue Montaigne, Paris
(curiously not on the Champs-Élysées, but an equally chic neighbourhood of the 8th arrondisement, close to Pont de l’Alma).
Paris, 29 June 2013
Top two images from the Akram Khan Company website. All other photos by Konstantinos Implikian.